The 2016 elementary and secondary teachers of the year in Keller schools focus on making the classroom a positive place for all their students.
Eboni Triplett strives to make learning fun and connect it to the real world for the second graders in her class at Woodland Springs Elementary School.
“I’ve had a lot of success in teaching them if they’re having fun and if we have a real world focus,” Triplett said.
During a recent game of what she called “Baseball math” where two “batters” go head to head to see which one will solve a mental math problem first, Triplett praised a girl for her quick answer. In the next round, when a classmate answered first, the girl was dejected. Triplett took moment to encourage her and the girl who had won the round paused to give her classmate a hug.
The caring response of the winner is something Triplett fosters in her class.
“In our classroom, community is first and foremost,” she said.
She starts the year with an emphasis on sharing. Each student shares about a personal weakness so that those who struggle with aspects of learning can see that even high achievers have shortcomings, too.
“That’s where connections are made,” Triplett said. “High achievers want to help struggling readers. We become a family. It’s family first.”
Triplett didn’t start out as a teacher after college. She was an aviation engineer at American Airlines when she began to learn the joy of connecting with kids by teaching kindergarten through fourth grade Sunday school classes at her church.
She felt called to teach, so she got her alternative teacher certification and began her career 11 years ago at Woodland Springs Elementary.
The oldest of ten children, Triplett grew up in Michigan, moving to Detroit in the eighth grade where she credits a handful of educators who took interest in her and helped her get into a charter school and later into Purdue University.
“If not for those teachers who take time to see the small things, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. “I try to do the same thing for my kids, to say to them, ‘I see you.’”
Trinity Springs Middle School science teacher Jason Cornelius says that getting kids to care about learning starts with getting kids to understand you care about them.
“If you build a relationship, you can change a life,” Cornelius said.
As a teacher, he looks for ways to encourage his students and help them have a better outlook on their day. He also helps them discover how to lift one another up.
About a year ago, he started a practice called “Friendly Fridays.” Each Friday, he calls a student up in front of the class to receive three compliments from peers and a small handful of Hershey’s chocolate kisses.
Sometimes the compliments are “Your hair looks nice,” but every once in a while a kid will share from the heart, Cornelius said. A student will talk about a time the recipient befriended him in the fifth grade when he had no friends.
“I’ve never had anyone leave class not smiling. It turns out to be amazing,” he said.
Seventh grader Kaden Bess said that Cornelius teaches them in a way that is easy to learn and always encourages them.
“Every day I come into Mr. C.’s room, he makes it a good day,” Kaden said.
In addition to teaching seventh grade science, Cornelius, who started his teaching career in 2007 at Trinity Springs, is the sponsor for the school’s eighth grade PALs (Peer Assistant Leadership) group.
Last year, PALs built a trebuchet so a special needs student could shoot a basketball into the hoop.
The group not only looks at ways to make the school better but also addresses needs in the community. PALs have done service projects involving Christ’s Haven for Children, Sunshine Spaces and Apollo Animal Rescue.
“I’d like to stay here until I retire,” he said. “I’ll be the old man science teacher.”