Teacher of the Year


Washington, D.C. – A poem that begins with "You are entering the world of a child..." greets visitors at the door of Dr. Betsy Rogers' classroom, welcoming them into a safe, caring, and intellectually-engaging environment.

"I believe the teacher must embrace the whole child in a caring and positive manner, that the classroom should foster a climate that provides children with experiences that assist in developing the whole child, and that the teacher must acknowledge the varying pace of each child's development," says Rogers, a teacher at Leeds Elementary School in Jefferson County, Alabama.

For these beliefs and helping her students feel constantly engaged in learning, Rogers will be named 2003 National Teacher of the Year by President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony on April 30, 2003. Also recognized at this event will be the 2003 State Teachers of the Year.

The National Teacher of the Year Program, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), is sponsored by Scholastic Inc., the global children's publishing and media company. The program focuses public attention on teaching excellence and is the oldest and most prestigious awards program for teachers. Rogers, the 53rd National Teacher of the Year and the first to represent Alabama, will begin a year as a full-time national and international spokesperson for education on June 1, 2003.

In 1985 Rogers began teaching first grade at Leeds Elementary, where she says the poverty, abuse, and neglect experienced every day by some of her students overwhelmed her.

"I wanted to change the world for them," she says. "It took me several years to realize I could not change the world in which my students lived. But by understanding that school was the best place for some of my children, I became committed to making my classroom a place where students feel safe as well as creating an environment that provides joy to those with unfortunate lives."

Recognizing that all children learn differently and at a different pace, Rogers implements a variety of methods and materials to promote individual development of meaningful learning and social cooperation. Part of this is using a theme-based curriculum which follows the state guidelines. "This is important," she says, "because it allows the day to flow and helps make connections for children."

For example, one of her recent themes involved the Middle East. Her classroom displayed desert sunsets, magic carpet art, a desert animal center, desert mural, a center about Middle Eastern countries, charts about various locations, an Egyptian computer program, and a nomad tent- called "The Aladdin Tent." Students made passports, heard guest speakers, kept a travel diary, dressed in Middle Eastern costumes and enjoyed a Middle Eastern feast.

To broaden her ability to find the best materials and methods for each child, Rogers has continuously worked to improve her own teaching skills and keep knowledgeable of current research and trends in education. After 24 years away from a university setting, she earned three degrees — a masters in elementary education, an educational specialist in elementary education degree, and a doctorate in educational leadership — all in the past five years. This experience, she says, "challenged me to rethink my teaching practices, gave me a new perspective about the profession, and fostered and nurtured leadership skills I didn't know I had....helping me to see the importance of teacher leadership."

This realization helped Rogers make a substantial contribution to her school's first Literacy Committee and encouraged her to take on the challenging task of seeking National Board Certification. In 2000 she received her generalist/early childhood certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Beth Bruno, Rogers' principal, validates her leadership skills using as an example Rogers' year-long study of a teacher staying with a class of students for two consecutive years, a concept known as looping. "After collecting and compiling the data several years ago, she wrote a proposal to begin her own looping class," Bruno explains. Begun in 1997, the program has been so successful that "it has spread to other teachers and grade levels at Leeds Elementary and throughout our school system."

Dr. Bobby Neighbors, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, describes Rogers as "one of those extraordinary naturals for whom teaching is not only her vocation, it is her joy, her daily discovery, and her avocation. She can take the reluctant reader, the scared or shy student, and the sad, pitiful one from a dysfunctional home and, through her talents, find those subtle ways to build the confidence of the child as she helps him or her begin the journey of unlocking the potential within."

Margie Little, a Leeds Elementary colleague of Rogers whose children, each with different learning styles, have had Rogers as a teacher, describes her ability to reach out well to both, saying, "I witnessed the enrichment activities and extra push given the gifted one while the one with a learning disability was given encouragement, diagnostic evaluations, and modifications that allowed him to keep his self-esteem and experience success."

Rogers was born on March 2, 1952 in Birmingham, Alabama, and graduated from Woodlawn High School in the Birmingham Public School System. In 1974 she earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Samford University in Birmingham. Her master's, specialist, and doctoral degrees were also earned from Samford in 1998, 2000, and 2002 respectively.

Rogers began teaching in 1974 at Hewitt Elementary School in the Jefferson County system. After taking time off beginning in 1976 to raise her two sons, Alan and Rick, she returned to education in 1982 teaching movement education and kindergarten for the Early Learning Program at the First Baptist Church in Leeds.

In 1984 Rogers returned to the Jefferson County Schools as a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at Leeds Middle School before transferring to Leeds Elementary School the following year. She taught first grade for five years, then second grade for seven years before implementing the looping concept with first and second graders.

The other 2003 National Teacher of the Year finalists are Lorraine Johnson, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Arnall Middle School in Newnan, Georgia; Melissa Bartlett, a ninth through twelfth grade language arts and English-as-a-Second-Language teacher at Statesville High School in Statesville, North Carolina; and Jennifer Montgomery, a tenth through twelfth grade English and journalism teacher at Bismarck High School in Bismarck, North Dakota.

A committee of representatives from the 15 leading national education organizations chooses the recipient from among the State Teachers of the Year, including those representing American Samoa, Department of Defense Education Activity, District of Columbia, Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands.

State Teachers of the Year are selected on the basis of nominations by students, teachers, principals, and school district administrators throughout the states. Applications are then submitted to CCSSO in Washington, D.C., where the national selection committee reviews the data on each candidate and selects the finalists. The selection committee then personally interviews each finalist before naming the National Teacher of the Year.