ABOUT THE FINALIST
Name: Scottie Caldwell
Education: Graduated Brainerd High School, 1980: Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., 1984: Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, 1994 with a master's degree in administration and supervision, Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tenn., with an educational specialist degree in curriculum and instruction, 2003.
Experience: Two years at Hixson Middle School, 28 years in education
Family: She is divorced, with two children: a daughter who is graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta and a son who is graduating from Tyner High School. Both of her parents also were teachers.
QUOTES ABOUT THE FINALIST
"She's just absolutely an outstanding teacher. ... She does dances with the kids when they studying foreign countries. She just brings in so much life in the classroom, and the kids are just totally engaged. If they're studying Asia, she makes sure that she has a little repertoire of Asian activities. The kids cannot just learn about it, but also feel like they've just explored it firsthand."
- Sandra Barnwell, principal of Hixson Middle School
"She has always done a lot of extra things with kids. She is very energetic, and she always goes above and beyond."
- Gloria Moore, humanities supervisor for Hamilton County Department of Education
"I can be silly at times. I can be fun. I take pole dance [and burlesque dance] lessons. I teach dancing. I dance every day of my life. I love to do pranks." - Scottie Caldwell
Scottie Caldwell is doing what she loves - teaching.
So it's no wonder that Caldwell, a 28-year educator who teaches sixth-grade social studies at Hixson Middle School, is a finalist in the Chattanooga Times Free Press Excellence in Education awards.
She is a bundle of energy, and she focuses most of that energy on her students, according to Nichelle White, one of two people who nominated Caldwell for the honor.
"I worked with [Ms. Caldwell] several years back and my daughter was also a student of hers. Today, my daughter is 24 years old and still talks about her and how she cares for her students' well-being. But most of all, she talks about how much she learned in her class," White, a teacher's aide, wrote of Caldwell in her letter of nomination.
Caldwell's Facebook motto pretty well sums up what keeps this longtime teacher holding the chalk:
"It's not what you leave to your children, it's what you leave in your children. ..."
Still, this classroom wonder says the most challenging part of her job is "not having enough time to teach all I want to teach in a day's time. I run out of time."
Both White and another person who gave Caldwell a special second nomination said her determination to be the best teacher she can be leads her to plan and plan and plan.
"This particular teacher plans extensively. This particular teacher is my first teacher, my mother," wrote Christian Allana Caldwell, now a college student and fashion designer in Atlanta.
"I have watched her while she has planned through the years, and always asked her, why do you do so much? I realize later in life, that's just how she is. She does not like to do things halfway. It has to be done right. She likes to have more to do in class than not enough."
Christian said her mother knows most of her students may never experience much of the nation's and the world's diversity and culture, so she tries to bring it to them.
"Our den used to look like different parts of the country depending on what she was teaching that month," Christian's nomination states.
Caldwell said she has taught in 80 percent of Hamilton County's public schools - in elementary, middle and high schools. She's also been a literacy coach, a writing coach and helped the school system's other teachers learn how to teach better.
"They're all my favorites," she said of teaching so many different grades, schools and subjects. "They're all different."
But what makes teaching any grade always exciting for her is seeing students' grow with knowledge.
"Elementary students are fascinating, because you can easily mold them. You can take them to so many places where they haven't been before, and you always can find the teachable moment with students in elementary grades," she said.
Teaching for so long in so many different schools also has given her insight into public education's present and future needs.
"At Hixson, I have everything I want [for teaching]. But in the inner-city schools, we barely had enough textbooks. We barely had desks."
At all schools, she advocates raising teacher salaries "to make it inviting to new teachers coming into the field" and lowering the number of students in each classroom "so we could give more individualized attention" to them.
White said Caldwell doesn't just use teacher guides and tools to plan and shape her lessons.
"She takes each child's individuality in account," White said. "She is the kind of teacher that does not have to use books all the time. She teaches her units through culture days, dances and theater. She enjoys hands-on teaching, especially to give diversity."
The students in her class learn that knowledge is fun, according to White.
"Mrs. Caldwell loves engaging the students in various activities, which challenges their mind. She may leave them wondering if they are learning and having fun at the same time."
And she makes her classroom feel like home.
White said Caldwell posts samples of all her students' work, "all over the wall full of 'praise' words beside them. ... I never knew a teacher that treats her children for homework and good grades as she does."
Caldwell's brag board builds a bridge for teacher and student, and she said the best part of her job is the rapport she has with her students.
"I'm their teacher, but sometimes, I'm their mother. Sometimes, I feel like I'm their friend. They all have my cell phone number, and they know they can call me if they want to."
Contact staff writer Pam Sohn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6346.