Teacher Appreciation Week

PAEMST awardee Melissa Collins typifies teachers for which NSF is thankful

PAEMST awardee Melissa Collins in Dubai for the Global Teacher Prize ceremonies. Photo credit: Joe Underwood

Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST recipient Melissa Collins embodies what it means to be a dedicated and passionate educator. She teaches mathematics and science at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis, Tennessee, where she mentors educators to create classroom environments that accelerate learning by encouraging the free exchange of ideas among students.

Her success with this novel teaching approach makes her an example of teachers the National Science Foundation (NSF), which administers the PAEMST program for the White House, would like to thank in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week.

“As a new teacher, I recall learning how to create a conducive learning environment for all students. Then I realized I could not do it alone. I began involving stakeholders,” Collins said at the time she received the PAEMST.

Collins became a PAEMST awardee in 2008. Since then, she received the National Education Association’s Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sonheim Inspiration Teacher Award and the Council of the Great City Schools’ Queen Smith Award for Urban Education. Most recently, out of more than 30,000 applicants from around the world, the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize named Collins a Top 50 Finalist.

In each of the award applications, Collins often referenced adjustments made in her teaching due to lessons learned from the PAEMST process and the interactions with the PAEMST awardee network.

Interestingly, Collins hesitated to apply for the PAEMST, even though her principal nominated her. She soon overcame her reluctance, citing the intense professional learning experience she knew she would receive from completing the application. “I knew the award would be a great accomplishment for me as an urban educator,” she said.

She now uses the PAEMST awardee network of more than 4,700 teachers to share strategies and tools for improving her own teaching and adjusting practices in her classroom. She incorporates that new knowledge to assess what her students know, what they do not know and how they want to learn.

Recently, Collins attended a teacher leadership summit hosted by the Smithsonian Science Education Center and Shell Oil Company in Washington, D.C. There, she worked with other educators to create a plan for developing a diverse STEM teaching workforce in their respective districts.

“I wanted to be a part of the work to attract, retain and reward minority educators,” she said. “Minority students are not exposed to people that look like them. Therefore, it makes it difficult for students to be empowered or inspired due to the lack of minority teachers in the classrooms.”

Collins believes that a diverse STEM teacher workforce would start to alleviate some of the disparities among diverse students in how they view STEM fields. She is dedicated to continuing the work to make this a reality

“Encouragement for students from someone who looks like them is truly powerful,” she said.

PAEMST is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Celebrate and nominate a teacher like Collins when applications open this fall at www.paemst.org.