‘Teacher learning’ keys state teacher of year finalist’s success

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – She’s being recognized for teaching, but South Side Elementary second-grade teacher Morgan Rankin said the key to her career success is learning.

“You can walk into any classroom at South Side and you have something to learn even as an experienced educator from your colleagues,” said Rankin, who Thursday was named a finalist for the Tennessee Department of Education Teacher of the Year.

Rankin said she’s surrounded by some of the best educators she’s ever worked with at South Side — and she takes full advantage.

“Definitely the pinnacle of my teaching philosophy is learning from the people around you,” she said.

Morgan Rankin works her second-grade classroom at South Side School in Johnson City, Tenn. during the pandemic.

That includes taking cues from less experienced teachers.

“Everyone brings something cool to the classroom that you might not think of until you see it in action.”

Rankin got a pleasant kind of shock upon learning she was among nine finalists for the annual award.

“That was a fun email to open up,” the 14-year veteran teacher said. “The first thing I did was tell my husband, because he is my biggest supporter – I couldn’t do my job to the degree I can if I didn’t have his help at home.”

Rankin, who has taught six years at South Side after beginning her career in her native Ontario, then texted South Side principal Kaytee Jones and called her parents.

Morgan Rankin

In this strangest of school years, Rankin credited her attitude toward “teacher learning” for helping get her through effectively.

“This was definitely a learning year. My participation in the technology academy through the Johnson City Schools definitely helped prepare me for this year.”

She’s had nearly five years of extra technology training through that district-wide program.

“Not to say that this year was easy, but I knew exactly who to contact when I needed help and I had a whole resource and a whole extra team of teachers that we could support one another and work together to make this year successful despite all the challenges.”

For all the importance of teacher learning, though, it’s the little learners in her second grade classroom that make Rankin’s career most rewarding.

“Just watching a kid have that ‘aha moment,’ — something click in math, something they’ve been really finding difficult, or seeing how a student cracks into a chapter book for the first time, discovers a new author that they love or they ask just like really cool questions in science and social studies. Those are the things that make me know we’re on the right track, that we’re doing the right things.”

Those things are good signs, she said, because learning isn’t a passive activity.

“When your students are asking questions it means their brains are working and that the information you’re giving them isn’t just soaking in,” Rankin said.

“They’re doing something with it and that’s ultimately what you always want for your learners is to take that information and then go bigger with it. Make it their own.”

Rankin said she anticipates continuing to go bigger in her career by using the information she picks up from her peers – even when she’s closer to the finish line of her teaching career than she to its starting line.

“I’ve always been the teacher even from day one that’s pretty eager to learn something new and try something new – not that you get rid of the things that you know are working, but I’m always looking for something I can add to my toolbox.”

Next up for Rankin are interviews with TDOE. The winner will be announced in the fall, but all nine finalists have been invited to serve on TDOE Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s Teacher Advisory Council for the school year that begins in August.

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