• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Teacher of the Year: Reading has always been a priority for Calmes


ERIN BETH BAKER gets one-on-one attention from Tamela Calmes, Simmons Elementary School's Teacher of the Year. "Winnie the Pooh" bears line shelves in her classroom, which gives her young students a sense of being in a comfortable, safe place - almost home. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Estill County native Tamela Calmes has been a teacher for 21 years, but she's known she's wanted to teach since she was a second-grader. And her parents were always very supportive of their only child's aspiration to teach. "I never altered my choice," says Calmes. "I've always wanted to be a teacher. I've had some phenomenal teachers..." They helped her when she was a struggling student and have also influenced her teaching style, but it was her parents who Calmes first thought about when she was named Teacher of the Year at Simmons Elementary School. "I was super-excited to share that (recognition) with them," says Calmes, who kept the flowers of congratulations from her parents - weeks after receiving them. Her parents were not educators, but they shared a love for learning with Calmes, who remembers them reading "Winnie the Pooh" stories to her when she was only three years old. "They made reading - to me - a priority," says Calmes. She reads to her own children, Lucas and Katie-Beth, every night. She also reads to - and with - her students during the school day "because hearing stories builds your writing. It builds your thinking. It builds your conversational skills," says Calmes. "...It helps you with everything you want to be." Before moving up to third grade this year, Calmes was a second-grade teacher at Simmons Elementary for 17 years. Moving up a grade level would have been "more of a challenge" if she had not been joined by half of the second-graders in her class last school year. "I had a phenomenal year last year - the group of students that I had, the growth that I had with those particular students, the relationships that we formed. That was so powerful that I was willing to go out of my comfort zone" for a chance to work with those students again, Calmes explains. She says knowing the strengths and weaknesses of her students made the transition to third grade easier for everyone. Asked about teaching, Calmes says she relies on Kagan's cooperative learning structures to reach the many different learning styles in her classroom. So students learn from their peers during "face times" and also by "playing" a game, which delivers content "in a fun way because students are convinced it's a game, but yet they're learning," explains Calmes. Her students regularly work in small groups "so it's like a 'we do it together.' And I always do an exit slip to check they're learning," says Calmes, who wants students to understand that everyone, including their teacher, learns by making mistakes "because none of us are perfect. That's why we have erasers on the other end of pencils." "In my classroom," she says, "it's okay to not know ... But it's not okay to not try. I cannot help you learn if I don't know how to help you learn." Robert, her husband of 23 years, taught at Northside Elementary in Midway for 15 years before becoming a fourth-grade math teacher at Clays Mill Elementary in Lexington. "So he is very supportive and understands the time commitment (of teaching)," says Calmes, who began her career in Estill County before coming to Simmons Elementary. (This is the second in a series of seven feature stories about Woodford County Public Schools' 2016-17 Teachers of the Year.)

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