COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Students aren’t the only ones sharpening pencils and getting ready for the school year.
Teachers have been preparing for the start of the 2022 school year for weeks, and WRBL got a chance to sit down with last year’s Muscogee County Teacher of the Year as students and staff return to the classroom.
Meet Vanessa Ellis, a Social Studies Teacher at Veteran’s Memorial Middle School in Columbus.
Ahead of her 12th year in the classroom, Ellis sat down with our News 3’s Blake Eason for an exclusive one-on-one interview touching on a wide range of topics, from winning the title, teaching in a pandemic, and her hope for the next generation.
With going into a new school year, we asked Ellis if it feels different than any year before.
“Yes and no. Same Mrs. Ellis, same love for my students, same love for my content area, same love for my school,” Ellis said. “Different in terms of I feel like all eyes are on me and I have a voice and position it listen to teachers and share their stories and assist them in any way that’s possible.”
Ellis is a product of the public school system in Columbus, which she says makes the honor of being teacher of the year even more special.
“I don’t think of the teacher of the year recognition as just something for me, it’s a culmination of all of those who’s poured in to me,” Ellis said. “My teachers at Dawson Elementary, at Rothschild Middle, and Jordan Vocational High School.”
Her education didn’t stop there. Ellis went on to continue to her education by studying at Columbus State University before becoming a teacher in Columbus.
Ellis says she’s always wanted to be a teacher by reflecting on stories of her childhood when she would teach lessons to her younger brothers.
Now all these years being awarded teacher of the year, Ellis says even her students championed this title for her by constantly asking for updates throughout the process.
“Just to see their pride, it’s a feeling you can’t describe, because it’s for them,” Ellis said. “You don’t become a teacher of the year or you don’t get recognition, without pouring into your students, without them being the consumers or beneficiaries of your lessons. This honor is definitely for them.”
The honor didn’t come without challenges as Ellis reflected on what it’s been like to teach in and through the COVID-19 pandemic, something she says has taught educators in return.
“The pandemic has been a great teacher in terms of what education is and what education can be,” Ellis said.
Ellis adds teaching through the pandemic made her a better teacher, something she believes many educators would agree on.
As students return to the classroom, Ellis says she can definitely feel students carrying all that’s happening in the world.
“That’s the power of being a teacher, you get to know your students, build relationships with them, and overtime they start to talk to you, open up to you, and that’s when you show your grace and compassion,” Ellis said.
Ellis continues by saying she does worry about her students given everything that’s going on in the world today.
“Teaching is so emotionally taxing because not only are you preparing lessons and doing all of the things for the learning process, but you wonder what they go home to,” Ellis said. “There’s so much that you know about your kids, even before they walk into the door, but just imagine what you don’t know about your kids. That’s what really keeps you up and night”
The Georgia Association of Educators recently released a burn-out report in response to the rising number of educators leaving the profession.
Ellis weighs in on what she believes could be contributing to the problem, citing burn-out in the profession has always been a problem but the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated it.
“The workload for teachers sometimes feels impossible,” Ellis said.
But Ellis adds that she’s grateful for the district she works in because she and her colleagues can communicate, collaborate, and share the workload teachers are often faced with.
“The superintendent and our administrators are always asking ‘what can we take off your plate?’ or ‘what can we do to make things easier?’ and I think the pandemic and that burn-out culture has now opened up that conversation,” Ellis said.
The full interview with Ellis can be found at the top of this web article.