Teacher of the Year steps up as Academy instructor

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Who would be a better person teaching prospective teachers than a school district’s Teacher of the Year? Well, that’s what is happening this school year in Lamar County.

Julie Viguerie, the Lamar County School District’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, has become the instructor for Teacher Academy at the Lamar County Center for Technical Education. She had been in an Oak Grove High School science classroom since 2011, teaching biology and physical science last year before the Teacher Academy job became available.

“I am always looking for change, and not just for the sake of change,” said Viguerie, who is in her 23rd year of teaching. “I want to see what else I can do; I like to challenge myself. I think it’s always a good thing in the profession to always develop and with this class, I have to use a different skillset because what I am teaching is different. I have to teach them to think like teachers in their second year.”

For Viguerie, she became an even larger role model for teaching beyond the Teacher of the Year designation.

“It offered me an opportunity in the field of education to promote education and to really just kind of work with teenagers and get them to enjoy the profession,” she said.

Viguerie said the two years of Teacher Academy follow a logical progression.

“The first year is mainly the instructional part about the diversity of learners, the history of education, child development, educational psychology, the theories behind the psychology and technology,” she said. “They have become better at presenting, researching and looking for stuff to use for resources. They do go into the classrooms the first year, but they are observers and they have certain things they need to look for in that first year.”

During the second year, the students go into the local classrooms and work with the teachers and students.

“In the second year, the students go out to the classrooms on Tuesday and Thursday,” she said. “They’ve been assigned teachers that they are going to work with, second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers. They actually get to go in there and do some hands-on with the kids eventually.”

The work in the classrooms gives the students the opportunity to apply the techniques they learned in the first year, Viguerie said.

“They do more observation hours the second year because this is when they are actually learning about lesson planning and teaching strategies,” she said. “They are applying when they learned the first year, depending on the grade level, the subject area and the type of kid that they will be working with.”

For Viguerie, Teacher Academy also allows her to look at her own teaching strategies.

“It helps me think about the choices that I make as a teacher because those of the things that I have to teach them,” she said. “So I really become reflective, and I teach them that. I teach them to be reflective because they don’t understand reflection on whatever just happened. They’ve done it in English, but they may not have done it in other classes. Why did they make those choices? How did they know those things occurred? I really like that aspect of it.”

Because Teacher Academy is a two-year program, Viguerie is able to tailor the instruction toward the individual student and their career goals.

“My first-year students are going to have a very broad experience,” she said. “My second-year students will be more focused as they kind of have more of an idea. If they think they may want to teach middle school, then they are going to focus on middle school. If they think they may want lower elementary, then they are going to focus on lower elementary, just so that way they can get a better understanding.

“They are going to switch up; they are not going to stay in there the entire semester. They will switch. It gives them a better opportunity to know the kids and to learn the process, the grade and where they are. I am trying to place them where they think they may want to teach.”

The Teacher Academy work prepares the students for their classes after high school, Viguerie said.

“When they get into their college ed programs, they may decide that instead of lower elementary, they want to do middle school or high school,” she said. “That way they don’t spend the first couple of years thinking they want to go one way in their classes, and then decide something else. It gives them a better outlook or preview of what to expect.”

However, Viguerie said she also helps her students prepare for the experience of teaching, working with those students who may not be accustomed to speaking to large groups of people.

“A big part of the first days of this class in Year One is building communities,” she said. “I’ve got students who come from four different schools all over the district. We have Lumberton students and students from the three schools in the Lamar County School District this year. Because they are going to be together all year and because they are going to have to present to each other, we build communities so they are confident in each other, they know each other well and I think that it helps them when they go to present.”

Early speaking assignments were not difficult, Viguerie said.

“The first presentation they had to do was to tell me about themselves,” she said. “I taught them the skills, but now we know things about each other. A couple of students who come from different schools, during their presentations, they realized that they have some very unique, common interests that they shared. They kind of brought them together too.”

Viguerie said the personal interaction is important in any profession.

“Building communities is an important part of my first classes,” she said. “From there, they just get more comfortable. Even if they don’t become teachers, those are skills they can use no matter what career they pursue.”