Jenny Tucker, a first-grade teacher at the Pine Bluff School District’s 34th Avenue Elementary School since 2009, recently was recognized as one of 16 regional finalists in the Arkansas Teacher of the Year competition.
Tucker is the only regional finalist who teaches in Southeast Arkansas.
“It has been absolutely overwhelming,” Tucker said in a recent conversation. “Just to be acknowledged by your co-workers is very special. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.”
Tucker said she was nominated by her peers at 34th Avenue to be that school’s teacher of the year this past spring.
“I then went through an interview process with the Central Office staff and was selected as Teacher of the Year for the Pine Bluff School District,” Tucker said. “Next I became one of 16 regional finalists from around the state. We attended an event at the State Capitol where the four finalists were selected. I was not one of them but I have had a wonderful time with this experience.”
Tucker said that the majority of her 30 years of teaching has been spent teaching first-graders.
“I went into teaching because I love it and I love interacting with the children,” Tucker said. “I knew that this is what I wanted to do when I was in the fourth grade.”
Tucker said teaching the first grade is particularly special to her.
“Even though children are now first introduced to school in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten I believe that as their first-grade teacher I am still part of their foundational learning,” Tucker said. “I am always so impressed with their academic and social growth from the time they first start in August until they go home for the summer in May.”
Tucker said the new Common Core standards required by the Arkansas Department of Education have brought real changes to the first-grade curriculum.
“Since the adoption of Common Core the way that basic math is taught has changed,” Tucker said. “Instead of memorization we use real-world situations to teach the concepts. When I am putting together my reports I tell them how many students are present and how many are absent and then ask them to tell me how many lunch trays we will need that day. I ask them to explain how they got the answer that they came to. Some of them use addition and some use subtraction but I tell them that as long as they come to the correct answer it doesn’t matter how they did it.”
Tucker said her first-graders are even learning principles of algebra.
“The content that they have to learn is they same type of information that in the past was taught to second- or third-graders,” Tucker said. “They are told that the concept they are learning is algebra and then they are given a problem such as five plus blank equals seven.”
Tucker said she believes that all children are capable of learning as long as they are instructed properly.
“I do feel that children are capable of learning,” Tucker said. “If we can get it onto their level they are capable of learning.”
Tucker said her lessons are tailored to reach the broadest number of students possible.
“When I teach spelling I lead the class in a lesson where we spell with our arms as well as our mouth,” Tucker said. “It’s an exercise where we learn about words that are over the line and under the line. They lift their arms up for the tall letter and squat down for the short letters.”
Tucker said this approach both reinforces learning and provides an energetic outlet for children who tend to be restless in class.
“In the old days students had to sit in straight rows with both feet on the floor,” Tucker said. “But now we realize that some children are more comfortable for instance tucking one leg under the other. And that’s OK. As long as they are actively learning.”
Tucker praised the support given to her and her fellow teachers by the Pine Bluff School District.
“It has been very enjoyable here in the Pine Bluff School District,” Tucker said. “They give you roots and they give you wings. There is a real sense of connectedness here. People work together. We feel grounded with the support the district provides but at the same time we can soar as high as we want to.”
Teacher of the Year
The Arkansas Teacher of the Year competition is part of the National Teacher of the Year program, which began in 1952. According to information provided by the PBSD, teachers are nominated and selected for the award every year based on their teaching skill and their dedication to students, parents and colleagues. Those who are recognized demonstrate leadership at the school and community levels and inspire students of all backgrounds.