Influential Teachers 10

A Chat with Some of the Area’s Best Educators

Where your child goes to school is not as important as who is standing before them passing on something that they will take with them forever. Teachers are the backbone of our schools and the influential role models that our children look to for guidance. After all, they are around for the most impressionable years of a child’s life.

Educators are not only responsible for academic enrichment, but they play a vital role in molding and preparing children to become the next generation of leaders. Successful teaching can unlock our minds and imaginations. Through a teacher’s direction, we learn some of life’s most important lessons and gain insight on the right direction to go in our journey of life. They instill the assurance and confidence that is needed to achieve dreams.

This is no easy task. It takes a special kind of person to commit their lives to education and to giving children the knowledge they need to succeed in society. Teaching is a noble profession, and our teachers deserve and have earned nothing but extreme respect. Their work is meaningful and important and a functioning society cannot exist without them. I know I would not be where I am today without the leadership, inspiration, hard work and most of all patience that I received from my teachers.

The teachers from Hoover City Schools interviewed here all share some of the same inspirations that it takes to be a triumphant educator: they were all highly loyal to their schools, admired their colleagues and were 100 percent dedicated to their students and the futures of these children and young adults.

So, thank a teacher today and let them know how much they are appreciated, admired and respected.

Greystone Elementary, 300 Village St., Birmingham, AL 35242

Amy Williams, Fifth Grade Teacher

Two Eighty Lifestyle (TEL): What are some of the reasons you became involved in education?

AW: A person never really knows if they’ve chosen the right career when they begin, but I am lucky. I was 20 years old when I began teaching, and I can honestly say that I have loved teaching ever since. There are many reasons why I have become involved in teaching. One constant is the love of children. They make me laugh! There is absolutely never a dull moment, which brings me to the second reason: the thrill of the challenge. There is nothing like the first day when your students tell you they do not like to write. Then, by the end of the year, students have written beautiful essays that they can call their own. It’s crazy fun helping them become confident authors.

TEL: In what ways have you dedicated your life to education?

AW: I have dedicated my life to education because I like making a difference in the lives of my students. You hear this all of the time, but I think it is true with any teacher, especially the teachers at Greystone Elementary. When you see a student get it, or when you see them make a change for the better, it’s addictive.

TEL: What makes you special to the community and what makes the community special to you?

AW: Not only am I passionate about writing, but I am passionate about taking care of our community. I have received grants from our PTA, the Hoover City Schools Foundation and the Birmingham Audubon Society. These grants have provided birdseed, feeders and native plants for our Outdoor Classroom. With their help, students have been given the opportunity to take a more active role in caring for the world around them. In our Outdoor Classroom, native birds, animals and plants are studied at every grade level. The community has helped me by providing me with tools I can use to make a difference. I am fortunate that I teach with passionate, loving teachers and work in a school district that supports innovative ways to educate its students.

Birki Chavo, Kindergarten Teacher

TEL: What are some of the reasons you became involved in education?

BC: I pursued a career in education because, for me, it is an “investment career.” I am investing directly into the lives of others, and I love that! I came to this career a little later than most but had a passion to use my life experience and the knowledge I gained through my education to help my students, hopefully, acquire their own passion for learning in a safe and enriching environment. I also seek to inspire and encourage my students to find and develop their own gifts and talents because I think this is such an important component in their learning and development as individuals.

TEL: In what ways have you dedicated your life to education?

BC: I taught kindergarten for six years in Birmingham City Schools, and I just completed my 16th year teaching kindergarten in Hoover City Schools at Greystone Elementary. Being in the kindergarten classroom has been a perfect fit for me because I’ve had the privilege of working closely with each student and his or her family to help make the transition into the school setting. While a big responsibility, it is also a joy to be closely involved in every aspect of student development and growth and working with the family to accomplish that.

TEL: What makes you special to the community and what makes the community special to you?

BC: At Greystone, we are fortunate to have parents who are actively involved in the life of our school and also in the classroom. This gives me, as a teacher, the opportunity to interact with my parents on a regular basis through classroom and school events. Being a community school, we are truly like one big family. Having taught at Greystone for 16 years, I have had the opportunity to get to know many families in this community. We have celebrated together, mourned losses together and faced challenges together which has created a wonderful bond of caring and love. It is the best!

Berry Middle School, 4500 Jaguar Drive, Birmingham, AL 35242

Jeanne Boohaker, ESL/French Teacher

TEL: What are some of the reasons you became involved in education?

JB: I am a mother of three children that I have raised with much care, guidance and involvement in their educational path. With hard work, perseverance and endurance, they have become very successful in society. For that reason, I wanted to spread the message to every child that anything can be accomplished with these qualities and education.

TEL: In what ways have you dedicated your life to education?

JB: I have been at Berry for 12 years. I love my job; I wake up every morning thanking God for the blessings he bestowed on me. Being an ESL teacher, I have helped children from both ends of the spectrum. I have helped students who came to us at 11 and 12 years old who never have been in school, don’t even know the alphabet, and, moreover, they needed to learn social behavior, but with love and care they were able to graduate from high school successfully and go to college. We had students who came to us at 13 and 14 who didn’t speak a word of English, but again, with love and care, they became fluent in English and very successful in school.

TEL: What makes you special to the community and what makes the community special to you?

JB: I promote the diversity at Berry, and I celebrate every child, nationality, ethnicity and race. I plan a multicultural day at Berry once a year where the students get to share with the school and community their traditions, food, country and language. The Hoover community has been very supportive in our efforts to promote diversity and tolerance.

Spain Park High School, 4700 Jaguar Drive, Birmingham, AL 35242

Eric St. John, Theater

TEL: What are some of the reasons you became involved in education?

ESJ: I wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing after I finished my bachelor’s degree. I began to consider who had been a force for change in my life; it didn’t take long to realize that teachers like Sandra Taylor and Jerry Chapman (both at Berry High School), and Newton Neely (the University of Montevallo) were very influential. I hoped that maybe I could have the same effect on someone else.

TEL: In what ways have you dedicated your life to education?

ESJ: Teaching is not a 9-to-5 job, and teaching theater demands quite a bit of time. Theater teachers are often at work late for after-school rehearsals—weekends, too. We volunteer our time to organize the Trumbauer Festival, Alabama’s statewide secondary theater competition, which is held each fall.

I have worked summers to take student-created works to festivals in Atlanta and Edinburgh, Scotland. I have been involved in workshops at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and Julliard. I also spent several weeks during June as a Fund for Teachers Fellow, studying in London and New York and preparing to create a new, collaborative play with my students.

TEL: What makes you special to the community and what makes the community special to you?

ESJ: I don’t feel I’m necessarily any more special to the community than many of my colleagues. At Spain Park, I am fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented, intelligent and caring teachers I know, and our principal is one of the most supportive with whom I’ve worked. I have it easier than many teachers, as I help to create something that allows the public to see what my students are capable of creating. I take great pride when people come to see a show and leave realizing that they have seen a great performance, not a high school performance.

I am a graduate of Hoover City Schools. My daughter is a student in Hoover City Schools. This community is special to me because it’s where I grew up, where my family lives and where some of the best students I could hope for live!