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Today is August 13, 2022

Changing Lives

Mississippi Teacher of the Year Skye Morgan

By Steven Ward

Changing Lives

There was a time when all Skye Morgan thought about was designing sets on Broadway.

That changed after a former theater teacher asked Morgan if she would fill in for her as a long-term substitute when the teacher was out on maternity leave.

“I thought she was crazy for asking, as I was a challenging kid. I thought there was no way the principal would even let me. But I did it and loved it! I was sad to give it up when she returned,” Morgan said recently.

Today, Morgan, 39, is a U.S. history teacher at Petal High School and is Mississippi’s Teacher of the Year.

The annual Mississippi Teacher of the Year program — put on by the Mississippi Department of Education — recognizes exemplary teachers in the state who inspire students, demonstrate leadership both inside and outside the classroom, and serve as active members of the community. Morgan received a $5,000 stipend and will share her expertise through various presentations and activities.

Morgan, who is a member of Dixie Electric, will represent Mississippi in the National Teacher of the Year competition. 

Morgan, who had a grandmother and aunt that were educators, said she had a hard time focusing when she was in high school. Back then, the last thing she wanted to be was a teacher.

“I wanted to get as far away from high school as possible. I was always interested in production, so I pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in production-scenic design and lights/sound from The University of Southern Mississippi and had all intentions of pursuing that as my career,” Morgan said.

Her stint as a substitute changed her direction.

Although she attempted to work in the theater, the work wasn’t as fulfilling as her time in the classroom.

“Weirdly enough, I felt I was being called back to the classroom. So, I pursued an alternate route licensure and Masters of the Arts in Teaching from USM. Luckily, a principal took a shot on me and here I am,” Morgan said. 

“I am so grateful for all of my high school teachers who did not give up on me and poured into me regardless of my attitude or behavior. They saw potential in me I did not see in myself. It is because of them that I am what I am today.”

Morgan said she is especially indebted to her high school speech and debate coach and theater teacher, Kelly Garner. The two were close in high school.

 

Back home

Morgan, who is married and has an 8-year-old son, grew up in Petal and is now teaching in her hometown school district. 

“It is so weird, but amazing to be back at my alma mater teaching. I was able to teach side by side with my AP European history and AP U.S. history teacher before he retired.”

When asked what the toughest part of teaching is, Morgan said there is not enough time in the day to complete the things that teachers need to complete to be perfect.

“We have a tough time prioritizing what has to be done and what can wait until the next day or over the weekend. I don’t think that is going to change. Teaching comes with a large workload. It’s important that we don’t put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to think that we can complete that workload every day. It’s important that we focus on the kids and don’t lose sight of why we do what we do,” Morgan said.

The best thing about teaching?

“The kids! I don’t think there is anything in the world better than getting to spend your days with the joyful laughter of kids. They are our future, and we are trusted to teach, support, and mentor them into adulthood. Kids are spontaneous, funny, curious, and energetic. Every day is a different day, so it doesn’t get boring,” she said. 

“What other profession do you receive artwork and thank you notes from those that surround you? Well, in teaching that is quite common. The kids appreciate and love you. They show that appreciation every day.”

 

Teaching is not easy

Morgan has been teaching since July 2010.

Like most first-time teachers, the first couple of years were rough.

Morgan was slated to teach a few classes of 8th and 9th grade history and a section of theater during her first year. Two days before school started, the principal called her and asked if she could teach 11th grade, state-tested U.S. history.

“I am always up for a challenge, so I said yes. It was a challenge. I had classroom management issues and had to study every night just to get through the next day. I found myself crying most days after the students left for the day. I was so scared that I was going to let them down. The U.S. history test in Mississippi is the last state test that stands between students and graduation. I was so scared that I wasn’t doing enough to prepare them,” Morgan said. 

Turns out, that group of students had the highest U.S. history state test scores in Mississippi that year. Morgan said that occurred not because of her skills, but because of the bond she created with her students.

“It’s very easy to get caught up in wanting to do everything perfect. That’s just not realistic and honestly there is no perfect way,” Morgan said.

Morgan said there is something “magical” about teaching history.

“My goal is that students can see the connection between what happened in the past to current developments and policy decisions. Relevance is key in the history classroom — when students are able to make connections in the past to current issues, that is when you see the light bulbs go off. That is when you hook them! I want my students to leave my classroom feeling empowered and ready to participate in their local, state, and national community,” Morgan said. 

“Our country’s fragile system is only as strong as our citizens are knowledgeable to participate in it. If my students leave my classroom a little more interested in what is going on around them, I feel that I’ve done my job.”

Morgan’s platform as the state’s Teacher of the Year is just that — teaching students the skills “necessary to participate in our complicated and fragile democratic-republic.”

Morgan said it’s rewarding to watch her students learn, grow, and become successful.

“I am my happiest when a former student drops in to talk to me about college or their career.”  

 

 

Mississippi Parent of the Year Tara Denevan

Oxford School District mom Tara Denevan was named the state’s 2022 Parent of the Year by the Mississippi Department of Education.

Denevan, who has two children in the district, first volunteered in 2012 when her oldest child entered Pre-K at Bramlett Elementary School.

Today in Mississippi asked Denevan why she thinks it’s important for parents to volunteer at their children’s schools and how to go about getting involved.

 “Even if it is simply reading to your child’s class or going to sit with them during lunch, just show up and be present. I feel like being involved helps parents to form a true connection within the school. Having that connection with your child’s teacher lets your child know that you are there, you are involved, and you are invested in their education. If you can’t be involved at school, be involved at home. Help them with their homework, read to them, send notes to their teachers — whatever you have to do to show your child that you care.” 

 “For parents entering school for the first time, I encourage you to stop at that dreaded PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) table at open house. I promise you, they aren’t there just asking for your money, they truly want to help you get involved. Talk to your child’s teacher, even if you aren’t involved in the PTO. There are, more than likely, things that you can help with in the classroom. If you can’t be there in person, ask your teacher if they need supplies or other classroom items. Let your child go with you to purchase the items and bring them in. Kids love doing this and it is a way for them and the parent to be involved without the parent having to be present at the school.”

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