Congratulations to Meridian High School’s Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry teacher Michelle West for winning October’s Golden Apple Award! We are so proud of you!!
Golden Apple Award Winner Michelle West (far left) with her AP Chemistry students at Meridian High School.
October 21, 2012
We all matter
Meridian High chemistry teacher gets high marks from student
By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
MERIDIAN — Joke of the day: "We're all atoms so we all matter."
It's a corny joke but if it gets the attention of high school chemistry students, that's what matters to Meridian High School teacher Michelle West.
West learned Wednesday that she is the Golden Apple Teacher of the Month for October when award sponsors and the media surprised her in her chemistry classroom.
Victor Hubbard, principal of Meridian High School, was very proud of West, who has taught at MHS for 11 years.
"I think this is a great honor to show just how much of an impact that you have made on the lives of children that a student thought enough of you to nominate you for this award," Hubbard said. "You deserve this."
The student who nominated her for the award, Rae Jean Spears, said West is her hero, even if her jokes are a little lame.
"She makes corny jokes, very corny jokes," Spears said.
A teary-eyed West watched with surprise as sponsors presented her with the Golden Apple Award, a check for $300, and a voucher for $1,000 in school supplies.
Michael Reed, owner of Meridian Family of Stations, thanked West for her service to children.
"We started the Golden Apple Award, along with The Meridian Star this year as a way to recognize and honor teachers that go above and beyond, and to also put a spotlight on education and how important the education system is in our community," Reed said.
Richard Schwartz, presenting sponsor, told West that she is important in what her students believe.
"What's good about being a great teacher like you is that 20 years from now they'll remember you," Schwartz said.
Bo Pittman, representing the local area community credit unions, expressed his appreciation to West for her work.
"It's hard to express how much you give to our community every day," Pittman said.
West earned a bachelor in science and chemistry education from Purdue University. Her husband Corey is an aircraft inspector at Naval Air Station Meridian and they have a three-year-old son, Joel.
"It is of course a huge honor. It's a bit overwhelming and humbling," West said. "You hope you make an impact on students, not just teaching chemistry, but an impact on their lives. To realize that someone thought that much of me, it really is humbling and very honoring."
This is Spears' second year as a student in West's class. She first took Chemistry 1 and now is taking AP Chemistry.
"She is a hard worker, she's very thoughtful and it's been fun to get to know her as a student, to see her and how she lives her life," West said. "She is a Christian and she shares that quite openly. It's an encouragement to me that she does that. I have often found myself teaching chemistry and yet life comes in and you end up teaching life skills and going through life with your students. You care about their ups and their downs. It's just been a huge blessing to get to know her."
West said it is easy to get caught up in just teaching the subject matter, but other lessons are important too.
"It's about teaching these kids, first of all, how to learn and how to love learning. It's also about how to seek out information for themselves and how to handle situations that come up," West said. "We try to focus on teaching the whole person and sharing the knowledge that I have with them, in this case about chemistry."
West learns from her students too.
"I as a teacher have to be willing to be a learner as well. I try to focus on that. I'm a lifelong learner," she said.
West went to high school in Newcastle, Indiana where her chemistry teacher, John Thompson, inspired her to become a chemistry teacher.
"He really did inspire me to love chemistry and love learning it and also to want to teach," she said. "I've talked to my students about that. I draw on things, it could be little jokes that he said that helped me learn it. If I have to walk across the tables to get a point across, if we have to get up and do a dance about gases, we'll do that. The most important thing is that you are learning."
Her Christian faith is important to her and she said this year before school started she prayed that God would send some Godly people to her classroom. It didn't take long to have her prayer answered.
"The very first day of school I had three young ladies say outright that 'The most important thing you need to know about me is that I love God,'" West said. "That really touched me."
Every student has his or her own special quality, she said, and it is her job to build on that.
"There are some that may not have been the brightest chemistry student but they plugged away and they tried their best. That's really all I can ask for," she said.
West tries to find out their goals and dreams.
"I hope that my students find something that they love, whether it's chemistry or English or if it's fixing cars, I want them to do what they love to do," she said.
West acknowledges that some students are more difficult to teach than others.
"I don't reach them all because not every teacher is perfect for every student but I keep trying to be encouraging," West said. "I keep reminding them that they don't have to be the best at chemistry. They don't have to be the best, they have to do their best."
That's not always an A, she said.
"That may be a C or a D. We celebrate those Cs and Ds when they do accomplish it ... We rejoice in that," she said. "I try to find their strengths and I try to play to those strengths. I try to keep encouraging them that it's a process, not a one-day lesson."
As to the stereotypical chemistry teacher who enjoys explosions in the lab? Not Mrs. West.
"My approach to lab is that we're going to stop things before they actually blow up," West said. "I don't like to have uncontrolled fires. That's just me."
Spears said her teacher keeps them interested with lots of songs and jokes and other fun activities.
"She motivates me to want to study more," Spears said, adding that her own career path has changed after being in West's classes.
"If she can be as impactful as she is on my life," Spears said. "If I can be the same with someone else's life in the future, I would love that."
Spears wants to teach English literature.
In her letter to nominate West, her young student asked, 'How old is too old to have a favorite superhero?'
"Well I am an 18 year-old-senior and my hero happens to wear a C on her chest for Corny Chemist. Her unfailing dedication to a place that is sometimes deemed as a 'trouble school' shows her commitment to her career and students," Spears wrote. "To be honest, I dislike chemistry. However, Mrs. West teaches it and presents it in a way that leaves me intrigued to dig deeper into the many different theories and formulas. She has instilled in me a huge desire for deeper knowledge and what it means to truly work hard. I have never had a teacher who had a fire to see their students excel far beyond the classroom and actually do something to help."
Spears said the gift of teaching is not given through a degree, but by birth.
"I am confident that if there really is a divine power and a heaven after life on this earth, Mrs. West will be on the front row for teacher angels."
To nominate a teacher, go to either meridianstar.com or wgbctv.com and click on the Golden Apple logo.
One teacher will be awarded each month and a teacher of the year will be selected in May.
Nominations can be submitted by parents, faculty, or community members as well as past and present students. Candidates must be a current, full-time, faculty member in a public or private school system who are working within the following counties: in Mississippi — Lauderdale, Neshoba, Kemper, Clarke, or Newton counties. In Alabama — Choctaw or Sumter counties.
The nomination process consists of an essay of no more than 500 words detailing why the person should be considered for the Golden Apple Award.