Local educators Paige Browning, John Frizzell and Andrea Cox have been named the Germantown Municipal School District’s Teachers of the Year for 2020.
• PreK-4th Grade GMSD Teacher of the Year
Forest Hill Elementary School
Paige Browning is a first-grade teacher at Forest Hill Elementary School.
Though she has been teaching for eight years, this year was her first year at Forest Hill, her first year, teaching first grade, and her first year being a virtual teacher. In a year of firsts, one thing resonated with Browning — flexibility.
“Teachers are the most flexible creatures one can encounter,” she shared in an interview. Upon coming back to school after the pandemic hit in March, she volunteered to teach virtually when the number of students who selected virtual called for an additional first grade teacher.
Browning quickly became one of GMSD’s virtual teacher experts, using a mix of recorded videos and a plethora of engaging digital tools like SeeSaw and Nearpod. She also enjoyed several hours of live instruction and facetime with her students every day.
“I wanted our day to mirror a traditional day in first grade as much as possible,” she said.
One thing she saw as missing in her virtual day was the “Feeling of oneness and fellowship with others.”
She implemented initiatives like Friend Fridays, Last Day Lunches, online get-to-know-you games, on-campus (socially distanced) get togethers at the lake, and breakout rooms in Zoom for friendly chats.
When students returned from the Winter Break and the number of virtual students shifted, she was reassigned to an in-person first grade class made up of students from previously in-person first graders and those who were previously fully virtual. In spite of all of these changes, Browning has continued to approach her work with a smile and a love for her craft.
• 5th-8th Grade GMSD Teacher of the Year
Riverdale K-8 School
One parent wrote about John Frizzell, “He has a bright shining star at Riverdale.” It’s an accurate assessment, as he has only been with GMSD for four years and has quickly been recruited into several leadership positions around the school and district. His positions range from PLC Lead, Cross Country Sponsor, Poetry/Book Club Sponsor, TEAM Teacher Evaluator, Social Studies Content Lead, to a GMSD Diversity and Inclusion Coach. Frizzell is a talented teacher with a zeal for helping his students discover a love for history.
“Studying history may not help you balance your checkbook or understand chemical reactions, but it does something far more important. It requires us to step into the shoes of people who have gone before us and learn from their lives. History requires us to practice perspective taking and empathy,” he shared.
Aside from his passion about the subject matter in the classroom, it’s evident that Frizzell deeply cares for each of his students. He has instituted an annual “Student Appreciation Day” in which he writes handwritten, personalized notes to each student. We were lucky to read through nearly a dozen letters from current and former students and their families on how great an impact some of the personalized notes had on students.
A firm believer in student voice, Frizzell also takes cues from his students by using student exit interviews to continue sharpening his teaching skills. “I listen to my students’ feedback because the best teachers never stop being students themselves,” said Frizzell.
• 9th-12th Grade GMSD Teacher of the Year
Houston High School
Cox has been teaching for sixteen years with fifteen of those years at Houston High School. In addition to teaching AP English, she also serves as the English Department’s PLC Leader and has worked with colleagues to implement cutting edge strategies. She has coached new teachers as a Mentor Teacher. Gifted at writing, she is also commonly found on vision setting committees and school improvement plan task forces.
Cox also sponsors the HHS Yearbook, called the Mustang Spirit, which has garnered several awards in creativity from the publishing company. Most recently, Ms. Cox chaired the John Traverse Scholarship Committee to select a student recipient named for her dear friend and teaching mentor, John Traverse.
Many students describe her class as a revelation—in that she focuses her curriculum (rhetorical analysis, logical reasoning, synthesis, and argument) on outside world connections.
“Many [students] had never considered a piece of fiction worthy of any real-world connection, almost like the texts live history, and higher-level questions, I taught students to recognize that literature changes and evolves in reaction to real-world events, as does music, art, philosophy, etc. Once my students experienced this epiphany, the learning opportunities became endless,” Cox explained.
With AP exam pass rates that far exceed state and global averages, Cox knows how to reach students while addressing the curriculum.
She shared letters written to her from students who have gone on to prestigious universities and careers and who still remember the daily bell ringers in which students discuss current world events.
A centralized theme around the letters she shared were that students felt challenged to think critically in her classroom and felt they developed invaluable skills that are serving them in college and beyond.
“These students, and others whom I did not cite, are out in the world, using connections they made in my class to build a more understanding society,” Cox wrote about the effect of her teaching. It doesn’t get better than that.