ABOUT THE WINNER
Education: Bachelor's in music education and master's degree in music from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; education specialist degree in instructional leadership from Tennessee Tech University
Years in education: 19 years
Years at school: 19 years
Family: Married to husband, Amos; 1 stepson, Antonio
"She teaches the children discipline as it applies to music. They have great listening skills and follow directions to the point." - Brainerd parent Phyllis Rutledge
In his mind, Martel Smith sees the reason he graduated this year as simple. It's the same reason he's stayed out of trouble and the same reason he'll go to college in the fall.
He credits his success to his band teacher of four years, Tracey Frazier. To students like him, lessons learned go beyond just brass and percussion.
"She's more than a teacher," he said. "She's like a mother."
Smith is the captain of Brainerd High School's marching band. In the band he found focus and a path to a future. He'll play in Tennessee State University's marching band in the fall on a tuba scholarship.
"She kept me wanting to be successful. I saw what I needed to do to get to the next level," he said. "I don't think I'd even be graduating from high school if it wasn't for band."
Frazier has worked at Brainerd since beginning her teaching career, which at times has had her split between more than one school. She teaches marching band, piano and color guard classes.
In her classes she takes time to build personal relationships with students. She offers them advice on things happening at home. She checks grades to see how her students are faring in other classes. And if other teachers are having a problem with one of her students, they might ask her to deal with it.
"Anything you need, Mrs. Frazier's there to help you," Smith said. "She's one of the best teachers I've ever had. She gives kids a future."
While others shower her with praise, Frazier is quick to turn the conversation around, bragging about her students. She'll tell you how students like Smith got band scholarships or how others made it into honor bands.
She's proud of their accomplishments and doesn't shy away from getting involved in students' lives, because she's seen that classes like band can change a teen's future.
"Once students realize they have a talent and they're able to travel and meet students who do what they do, it gives them a goal and a reason to come to school," she said. "They know they've got to make certain grades. They know I'm going to be on them. A lot of them look at me as a mother figure. And I take that role with pride."
With all of the after-school band practices, football performances and trips to competitions, Brainerd Principal Charles Joynes says Frazier is one of the hardest working teachers he's seen.
"She works a lot of overtime. I mean a lot," he said.
Joynes noted how Frazier goes out of her way to give students new opportunities. She even organized for some to perform at her Sunday church service.
"She goes way above the call of duty," he said.
In her nomination, parent Phyllis Rutledge noted Frazier's ability to make learning music fun. While students enjoy learning the theory and practice of music, they also follow an organized curriculum that includes regular tests and a structured classroom setting.
"The students come prepared for every class and know that when they enter the classroom is it a place to learn," Rutledge said. "She teaches the children discipline as it applies to music. They have great listening skills and follow directions to the point."
Beyond just her skills in teaching music, Rutledge says Frazier helps motivate students to want success. She said Frazier looks at every student as she would her own child.
Rutledge's son, Garland, was diagnosed with a learning disability and was on track to receive a special education diploma. But since entering band class, his grades have improved and he's now on track to receive a regular high school diploma, she said.
"I am writing this with tears in my eyes," Rutledge said, "because if my son had never met Mrs. Frazier, he would not be where he is now."
Frazier said she doesn't think the standards should be lowered for students who have academic limitations or tough lives at home. In an urban environment like Brainerd, she said student apathy is a regular battle for teachers.
"I don't think that we should make any excuses for a student's level of performance," she said. "We have to get the students to focus on their education and leave the other things that are happening at home and in the community outside."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.