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Posted: October 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Stephanie Tyler

Teacher spices up lessons with cooking analogies

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Cream of the crop: Stephanie Tyler, fourth grade math teacher at Oak Hill Elementary, has taught in Newton County for four years.

Stephanie Tyler, a fourth grade math and reading teacher at Oak Hill Elementary School, knows how to mix together a heap of classroom structure with a pinch of no-nonsense discipline, combine them with a dollop of educational games for her students and end up with a pleasing result.

Tyler, a business-like teacher with a contagious laugh, often sits behind a table cloth decorated teacher desk diligently doing paperwork while her students tackle lessons she has taught through analogies from her cooking hobby. One could hear a pin drop upon entering the classroom because her students have learned hard work comes before the learning games Tyler so generously spoons out.

Her room is decorated in white and red checkers, the type that might be present on a vinyl picnic table or on a grandmother’s apron.

In the hallway, beside her classroom door, a class roster reads, "Recipe For A Great Class." Laminated chefs in tall white hats decorate her door to the left of a huge sign displaying the words, "Cooking up a great school year." Eye-catching soup ladles, tongs, pot holders and other cooking utensils hang from her ceiling by invisible thread prompting classroom visitors to look more closely at the surrounding décor.

Acknowledging an admiration for famous culinary expert Rachel Ray, Tyler allows her lifelong personal love of cooking to spill over into the classroom because she said the hobby contains useful synonyms which are encouraging in the learning environment.

For example, Tyler strives to make her students feel important by assigning weekly titles to each child such as "Sous chef" (teacher’s assistant), busboy and waiter. According to her, the students thrive on feeling a part of the learning environment and feeling as if they each have an important role in the classroom.

"In a kitchen, everyone is important," Tyler said. "It’s the same way in my classroom."

Tyler, who has taught every elementary grade except kindergarten and third grade, said her innovative and creative thinking helps her gain students’ respect and attention which is important because fourth grade is a crucial time in the kids’ educational and personal development. The upper elementary grades vigorously prepare students for responsibility they will need to possess in middle school. Self discipline can make or break a student’s success in the middle and high school years, she said.

"In essence, this is the year we start trying really hard to grow them up and to prepare them for those upper grades," Tyler explained. "Middle school is hard; therefore we really have to get their attention in the fourth and fifth grades in order to prepare them."

According to Tyler, fourth grade involves an intensive focus on math and reading skills. Reading classes place emphasis on comprehension, vocabulary, non-fiction reading and research skills. Math classes include instruction in basic long division as well as more complicated multiplication. Math classes also explore geometry and simple algebra.

It’s not all hard work for students in Tyler’s classes, however. The eight-year teaching veteran utilizes a wide assortment of both traditional and unique learning games to help her students grasp tough concepts.

 She also makes a point to show up to any event her students invite her to outside school — such as football and baseball games, birthday parties, etc. Tyler said she believes in trying to connect with her students because when she makes that effort, her students work harder in the classroom.

"The students need to know educators really care about them," she said. "When we do things to connect with them like show interest in their sporting events, they are more likely to do what we need them to do in the classroom."

Tyler, who has been teaching at Oak Hill Elementary for the past four years, is one of five teachers in Newton County to receive recognition from the state for meeting the standards of the Georgia Master Teachers Program this year. The program strives to recognize teachers possessing potential to become leaders and/or mentors to other teachers in their schools.

After a tedious application process last school year, Tyler received notice by mail over the summer that she had been selected as a recipient of the honor. She said it will be printed on her teaching certificate that she was recognized by the state for her outstanding achievement which involved such feats as leading her classes in previous years to receive very acceptable standardized testing scores.

"I was so very happy when I received notification I’d been selected, she said about being recognized as a Georgia Master Teacher. "It’s so nice to be recognized for all the hard work we do."

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