The Value of a Voice

by Ellie Talley, middle school teacher in the Germantown Municipal School District

In the middle of September several years ago, Davion* stepped into my classroom for the first time. Hesitant, shoulders hunched forward, his eyes slowly shifted from the floor to his new classmates and back to the floor again. He was quiet and shy, seemingly disinterested in all things pertaining to school and learning.

As Davion walked out of class that day, he dropped a piece of paper on my desk. I read it during the first few minutes of my lunch period an hour or two later, and tears flooded my eyes. The note read, “I kant (sic) read please help me.” Simultaneously, heartbreak for Davion’s struggle and a sense of gratitude that he would trust me with his secret washed over me. Inspired by his courage and boldness in the face of such hardship, I promised myself that I would do whatever it took to build Davion’s confidence in himself that year and improve his reading ability by at least three reading levels.

That year, we worked together tirelessly in class and after school to grow Davion’s reading skills. Using text on his reading level with concept maps during Social Studies class, Davion was able to build his reading skills while still learning the content alongside his classmates in a meaningful way. Outside of class, we partner read, played word games to build his vocabulary, and completed guided I-Station lessons together to build both his reading comprehension and fluency skills. By May, Davion had improved from a beginning reader to a fifth-grade reading level. The joy in Davion’s face when he heard the news and the newfound confidence he had in the classroom with his peers is something I’ll never forget.

The reason I’m sharing this story with you is because I think we all need reminders of just how much our voices matter. In using his voice to call out a challenge in his own life, eleven-year-old Davion showed me the powerful transformation that can occur when we’re willing to examine our lives and share our stories with each other. That’s why I share the stories of my students and the experiences we’ve shared together that have shaped and molded my life and theirs.

*Name changed to protect student’s privacy

We are all storytellers. What’s yours?

From one educator to another, I want to invite you to participate in the storytelling, too. The Tennessee Department of Education is calling on educators throughout our great state to share their inspirational, change-making stories in an effort to showcase the incredible work happening in classrooms and schools across Tennessee for Teacher Appreciation Week. This year, Teacher Appreciation week will be celebrated from May 7-11, and you can share your story by sending it and a picture of you or your students to

Having been a teacher in our state for almost eight years now, I see firsthand the magic that happens every day in our classrooms. I know the work and effort you put into building the next generation of life-long learners here in Tennessee. I hope you’ll use your voice to shine a light on your experiences so that Tennesseans from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains can celebrate the inspiring work happening every day in Tennessee schools.

Ellie teaches U.S. history and current events at Houston Middle in Germantown, Tennessee. She is passionate about student-centered learning that engages and inspires students to excellence within and beyond the classroom walls.