Teachers want to see their students succeed both in the classroom and as they enter society. The best teachers strive to find ways to accommodate their lessons so all students can succeed.
Brittany Latham of the Cole Camp School District is such a teacher.
Latham, a high school language arts teacher, was recently named the Missouri Association of Rural Educators (MARE) Teacher of the Year.
Last year the district was named the Outstanding Rural School District of the Year by MARE.
“I was really shocked when (Princpal Brandon Harding) told me that I had been chosen,” Latham said. “I didn’t know I had been nominated so I thought they may be playing a joke on me when he told me.
“It was a couple of weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, school was out and I was getting ready to leave when Mr. Harding stopped me and said he needed to talk to me,” she added. “At first I wondered what I had done and once he told me I thought maybe it was a joke; I’m still a little shocked.”
According to Harding, Latham is a perfect example of what a quality teacher should be.
“Brittany has such high standards for her students and that comes through in everything she does,” Harding said. “She is what I call a ‘bell to bell teacher’ who maximizes the time she is given to teach each period.
“She is traditional in many of her teaching methods but she also embraces new methods and she isn’t afraid to embrace technology,” he added. “She understands how to use the technology in the classroom and in fact began a pilot program for us last year of incorporating computers for every student in her classroom.”
Harding explained that because Latham has the students as sophomores and begins the process of the students using the technology in class at that grade, when they are required to take their state exams the process is familiar to them.
Last year 96 percent of Latham’s students scored at the advanced or proficient level on their end-of-course exams, which is 17 points above the state average.
“I really do have high expectations for my students, “Latham said. “I don’t expect them all to be A students but I want them to be their best.
“I don’t have any tolerance for students who don’t do their homework,” she added. “I can work with them and help them if they turn something in but if they don’t than there isn’t much I can do to help.”
Latham said she tries to discover early in the year who are her readers and writers are or where their interests lie.
“I think I can find something for everyone in the works we read and in the topics for writing,” Latham said. “I mix the classics with more modern and contemporary authors in our reading and I love it when my students make the connections.
“When a student says to me, ‘I am so mad at you Miss Latham because I hate this book and the ending,’ that’s when I know they really like it,” she added. “I love the reading and the discussions and connections I can help my students make. I always tell them there is no right answer (to a writer’s meaning) as long as they can support and defend their beliefs.”
Latham commented literature always changes and that she doesn’t get bored with a work because it can always be put into the context of the era.
“I want my students to read something and then voice their opinions or criticisms,” Latham said. “I want them to tell me what they value.
“Their essays and writings are excellent opportunities for them to do that,” she added. “I don’t call their first version of a paper a rough draft. Instead we call them first drafts so my students understand that they are works in progress.”
Typically, Latham’s students have a week to complete a paper.
“I know my students have other commitments than just my class,” Latham said. “We use Google Apps for Education in my class and so my cell phone is always going off because my students can access me at any time they have questions about their work.
“There is a lot of grading, mentoring and peer conferencing in teaching writing but I can’t think of a minute I didn’t enjoy it though,” she said thoughtfully. “It’s because I can see the effects and growth in their writing.”
High school Counselor Lori McCullough, who nominated Latham with Harding, reflected on her colleague’s work.
“Brittany’s students speak of her in such a positive way,” McCullough said. “When her students talk about her classes outside her room they comment upon what a joy the class is rather than a chore.
“Her students do so much more than interpret English in her classroom,” she added. “They focus on ethics in the workplace and what the students value.”
Latham is continuing her education and is working on her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.
“I think my master’s program has helped me with understanding the new learning standards, Latham said. “At one time I thought about becoming a curriculum director for a district.
“I really don’t think I want to do that though because I can’t imagine myself not being in the classroom,” she added. “I’m really happy and content in the classroom; I’ve found where I belong.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.