TOP TEACHER

Ochwilla Elementary fifth-grade teacher focus on engagement with students

Ochwilla Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Tim Stevens is known at the school for his captivating style of teaching — a style so enchanting, he regularly leads story time with fifth-graders. And that’s why he’s Putnam County’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. 

“The first time I observed in his classroom, I noticed how the kids were just captivated by him,” Ochwilla Principal Evelyn Langston said. “That’s when I knew we had a very good teacher here.”

Stevens, 32, graduated from University of North Florida with a theater degree. It wasn’t until his time at an elementary school through AmeriCorps he discovered he had a “knack” for teaching. 

When Stevens returned home to west Putnam County, he began working with the 21st Century after-school program at Ochwilla Elementary.

Ochwilla front office secretary Deborah Strang said she remembers Stevens acting out stories and giving characters various voices, while the students watched in awe. 

“If a student finds engagement in me and then in himself, the material serves as a conduit in which we’re connecting,” Stevens said. 

Stevens referenced a Jim Henson quote while explaining where his work in the classroom begins: “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

Engaging fifth-graders in English language arts and reading lessons could be a daunting task for some, but Stevens said he takes every child seriously to earn their respect and attention. 

“If you do that, that, on its own, is 80 percent of the fight,” he said. “I have a strong interest in character development.”

A few years ago, Stevens said, there was a push in the Putnam County School District to start classroom councils. 

After the push fizzled, Stevens said, he took it and made it his own. 

For 35-45 minutes each Friday, Ochwilla fifth-graders gather together for their class council. 

“It’s a time they can clear the air if they’re upset about something and show accountability,” he said. “You’ll even see teachers showing accountability.”

In addition to resolving problems, Stevens said, class council also provides students with the opportunity of seeing the benefits of being a part of a family. 

“We’re a family here,” he said. “We’re not just a school. We’re a community.”

Ochwilla’s assistant cafeteria manager, Brian Parrish, was named the 2017 Putnam County School District school-related employee for the year. That provided further testimony for the relationship between school employees and students. 

Parrish was praised for his work coordinating resources at Ochwilla to provide a shelter during Hurricane Matthew. He is also involved with the school’s extra curricular events and coordinates Owl Packs, which provides food for students to take home on the weekends. 

Parrish’s son, Brian Parrish II, is one of Stevens’ students this year. 

“It’s good. My teacher and my father won (the awards),” Brian said. “I always feel like I’m in good hands.”

Stevens said he hopes to use resources he’ll receive as Putnam’s Teacher of the Year as an opportunity to improve his teaching, and use his statewide recognition to advocate for Putnam. 

“I’ll use this as an opportunity to advocate for my county’s students and extol the virtues of this county beyond test scores,” he said.

Palatka Daily News

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