There are many ways to approach new learning strategies and for Stephens Elementary School physical education teacher Jeffery Odom that means teaching vocabulary in the gymnasium.

“It’s not traditional but it works,” Odom said. “We make it work. It’s stuff that has to do with physical education; kids learn words they don’t know because that’s how we get better at reading; words we may not know we sound them out, we try as a class. We choose readers and we go from there, so it’s very positive.”

Odom is one of 54 new teachers hired by the Alexander City School System this year. The Alexander City School System has 274 teachers total.

Superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford said a lot of teachers left at the end of the 2018-19 school year due to retirement or transferred to a different system to shorten their work commutes.

“When something opens up closer to home, a lot of those teachers took that opportunity to stay close to home,” Lankford said.

Lankford began working as superintendent in January. He is focusing this school year on a culture of learning and improving teaching for students.

“We’re trying to raise the level of expectations for everybody and that’s not just the teachers, that’s our students and our administrators as well and it starts with me,” Lankord said. “But we want to raise our test scores. We want to give our students more opportunities.”

Odom graduated from Auburn University at Montgomery with a degree in physical education and met SES principal Dr. Mary Holloway at an event in December. Odom called the school every day for two months to see if a position was open when he was offered the P.E. teacher position.

Odom said when he attended convocation and heard Lankford talk about the culture of learning, he decided to buy into it and help advance it. He incorporates vocabulary into lessons with his students, such as talking to them about special awareness then having them think about it while they do jumping jacks. 

“I’m excited to be here,” Odom said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity I have here in Alex City to make an impact on our community. Our community is our kids.”

New Benjamin Russell math teacher John Holt is also excited to work this year at the school. Holt previously worked as a civil engineer for Goodwyn Mills Cawood.

After stepping away from engineering to get a graduate degree, he thought about how hard it would be to be a teenager nowadays and decided he wanted to work with them.

“My first love was maths and sciences,” Holt said. “Teaching maths and sciences I felt like was a really good way to do that. So I went full circle back into the fundamentals of engineering curriculum but I realized I enjoyed it much better in theory than in practice.”

Holt’s goal is to understand his students better and plans to emphasize discipline in the classroom with focusing.

“Teachers can make or break kids so I want to be able to encourage and edify and be a resource,” Holt said. “Anybody can learn anything; it’s just a matter of discipline and support and resources.”

Veteran teachers have noticed a change in faculty since there were multiple retirements during the last few years. Benjamin Russell medical field career tech teacher Jessica Dean said all the teachers who retired were together when they started.

Dean graduated from BRHS in 1998 and has taught there for 13 years. She said she’s seen changes over the years at the school.

“This is my school; I have a lot of pride in this school,” Dean said. “Just being here I love the whole experience.”

The school year so far has been busy for Dean and she is focusing on students.

“It’s not so much about what I’m doing in my classroom, it’s all focused on student learning,” Dean said. “So if my students aren’t learning then ultimately I’m not doing my job.”

Dean’s goal in the career tech program is for her students to understand what she’s teaching and get into their careers.

“It’s a good place to be,” Dean said. “I’m very hopeful for the future.”

Jim Pearson Elementary School second-grade teacher Christale Tuck has also seen a lot of teachers retire recently.

Tuck has worked at the school for 14 years. She graduated from Central Coosa High School in 1998.

Tuck started work as a secretary before getting hired to work as a second-grade teacher. She said she has gone through multiple school changes such as having four principals, teaching only some subjects to teaching all of them for one class and going from teaching second to first grade then back to second grade.

“To me if you don’t change you don’t grow,” Tuck said. “It’s inevitable. We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. Change is hard sometimes and I think in the end it’s better. So we’ve had a lot of change at Jim Pearson.”

Tuck’s goal for the year is to be inspiring and loving for her students.

Lankford said he observed classes at one of the schools recently and thinks the school system has great teachers.

“The teachers are enthused about what they’re doing,” Lankford said. “The kids were all engaged and that’s what I want is the energy and passion. And sometimes our teachers lose that and I’m hoping that this year we can bring that back.”