Proud Moments from the Classroom in 2016

We asked members of our Teacher Advisory Council to share their proudest moments from the classroom in 2016. Here’s what they had to say about the incredible work being done in our schools across Tennessee.


 Derek Voiles

“My proudest moment was when a parent of one of my seventh graders told me that for the first time in his daughter’s life, she truly enjoyed reading. The most important skills that we teach are the ones that they will use far beyond school and into everyday life.  If we can spark a student’s desire to read, question, and seek answers, there is no limit to what he or she can become.”

Derek teaches seventh-grade English language arts at Lincoln Heights Middle School and is the 2016-17 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.

Cathy Whitehead

“My proudest moment happened when I saw the kids’ faces light up when the first Scholastic book box arrived. Knowing that I’m helping to nurture lifelong, enthusiastic, voracious readers is one of the very best parts about what I do!”

Cathy teaches third grade at West Chester Elementary.

Callie Hodge

“My proudest classroom moment of 2016 was watching one of my classes full of struggling, reluctant readers transform into a classroom full of lifelong readers.  They are no longer intimidated or insecure but rather confident in their abilities and ready to take risks.”

Callie teaches sixth-grade reading and language arts at Medina Middle School.

Christy McManus

“My proudest moment of 2016 was when I stepped back, looked at my class during writer’s workshop, and realized my students had become writers.  Not ‘fake writers’ who comply and write because their teacher tells them to, but rather, writers who look forward to and cherish their writing time as much as I do. That moment made me realize the importance of student choice in creating real writers, and it is a lesson I try to preach wherever I go!”

Christy teaches fifth-grade reading and social studies at Chester County Middle School.

Leslie Vines

“My proudest moment came when one of my fifth-grade students won the 4H speech contest for her speech about what it is like to be an undocumented kid in Tennessee. She is a struggling student academically but has learned to express herself with grace and poise. She brought her audience to tears and laughter with her optimism, gratitude, and hope for the future. I am proud and honored to be her teacher.”

Leslie teaches K–5 English as a second language at Jefferson Elementary School. 

 Siema Swartzel

“My proudest moment of this year is a recent field trip I coordinated to thank our business partners for their service to our school. Our students in chorus come early and practice to participate in chorus. They sounded wonderful and presented themselves so well. I have had the privilege to teach most of these students since kindergarten and first grade, and I know they have developed the confidence in music that will carry them through their middle school experience and beyond. Our students truly shined on this day!  I am so proud of these students and their achievement in music!”

Siema teaches K–5 music at Arnold Memorial Elementary

Kyle Prince

“My proudest moment in 2016 was when I received an email from a previous student who said, ‘I am so thankful for the way you made us think critically and not simply give us step by step instructions on how to solve a problem. Thank you for the time you invested in class to aid us in thinking about a mathematical concept as a whole instead of just making us memorize steps to get a solution.’ I am so proud of this student and how she has been able to apply in college what she learned in my class three years ago. It also reminded me of just how powerful conceptual understanding can be!”

Kyle teaches Algebra II and Calculus at Central Magnet School.

Cord Martin

“My proudest moment of 2016 was Thursday, October 27. This was my sixth-grade band’s first concert of their career as band students. First concerts are always special because the students are so excited! I am able to see the students progress from barely knowing how to put their instruments together or produce a good sound (yes…I heard many squeaks in the beginning!). In only three months, these students went from very little knowledge of how to play an instrument to performing harmoniously along with almost one hundred of their classmates for an audience of about a thousand people. I was very proud of my sixth-grade band’s first performance, and it is moments like these that make me both proud and fortunate to teach instrumental music education at the middle school level.”

Cord teaches instrumental music education and enrichment at Whitthorne Middle School.