Spotlight: Alexa Guynes (TN '22)February 1, 2023
Alexa Guynes (TN ’22) and her fifth graders start every day sitting on the carpet and reading a picture book together. Picture books for tweens? Absolutely: “It’s a great way to start the class off calmly, get to know my students better, and spend time in literature together.” Alexa received Tennessee’s Milken Award at Dogwood Elementary in Germantown on November 17, 2022.
Milken Family Foundation: What do you like about working with elementary students?
Alexa Guynes (TN ’22): Fifth graders will always have my heart. I love helping to prepare students for middle school and teaching them to become more independent while still experiencing all the fun that comes with working in an elementary school. Elementary students love to share all the good and bad things with their teachers, and I am so thankful to be a part of so many of their lives. Watching them grow up is bittersweet.
MFF: Tell us about your “Book a Day” project. Why do students enjoy this so much?
Alexa: “Book a Day” is a program that I began implementing in 2019 after attending an education conference that summer. I start each class period by gathering my students on the carpet and reading a picture book aloud together. By the end of the year, students have read at least 180 books with me. The books can be connected to what we are learning in class, world events, or tied to a social-emotional theme.
Students start off the year apprehensive, but by about October, I believe each student has bought in. It’s a great way to start the class off calmly, have conversations to get to know my students better, and spend time in literature together. It promotes a strong classroom community, builds empathy, and supports both visual and listening comprehension skills. It is truly my very favorite part of the day, especially seeing my students get so excited to read and make connections with me.
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Alexa: I have wanted to be a teacher since I became a student myself. I used to go home and “play school” in my room for hours. My grandmother once got me a chalkboard and school set for Christmas when I was about six, and it remained my favorite gift for a very long time. There was never a doubt in my mind about what I was meant to do. I am so lucky to have been blessed with some wonderful teachers, mentors, and fellow coworkers who have made my job a dream come true.
MFF: How did your first year of teaching go?
Alexa: Thankfully, I had a pretty great first year of teaching. One of my teammates really helped me acclimate to the school and learn the best ways to plan engaging lessons, and they were always available to answer my questions.
The most challenging part of the year was dealing with a few difficult parents. My coworkers were so great in helping me handle some challenging situations and become more confident in my decisions. I will forever be thankful for them.
Your first year is always memorable, and I even got to loop to fifth grade with that group of students. This year is their senior year of high school, so it has been really fun reminiscing about how far we have all come!
MFF: Who are your role models?
Alexa: I had so many memorable teachers growing up that shaped who I am as a teacher today. My eighth grade social studies teacher was the first teacher who truly brought learning to life for me. I weave in many of the things I remember from her class into my own teaching.
I also am constantly in awe of my own team of teachers that I currently work with. They have taught me so much in the years we have all worked together.
MFF: What is your role as ELA content lead?
Alexa: As the content lead, my job is to be a liaison between my school and our district office. I help to support ELA teachers in grades three through five by reviewing pacing guides, supporting new curriculum initiatives, and evaluating lessons. I enjoy helping teachers dig into the curriculum, look for trends in their data, and find ways to help engage students in their lessons.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Alexa: I have never been more shocked or surprised in my life! I truly thought the state was here to begin a reading initiative with our school, certainly not to present me with an award. I remember hanging onto every word that Dr. Foley was saying during her speech, trying to guess who she could be talking about. When my name was the one she said, it took me a moment to register what was happening. It is a day that I will never forget.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Alexa: I think my students were just as excited as I was. Many of my kiddos wrote me the sweetest letters, congratulating me and telling me how proud they were to be in my class. When I walk down the hallway, I still get hugs from students not in my class. I think this day will be memorable for them for a very long time.
MFF: Any plans for your $25,000 Award?
Alexa: We have been planning to renovate our outdoor patio for a while now, so I think this is our sign to finally work on it. My own children, ages two and five, will probably get a few new “happies” coming their way too.
MFF: How do you define “success”?
Alexa: I believe success is what you make of it, and it looks different for everyone. I feel successful on the days when I can see progress being made with a student, either academically or emotionally. Even the smallest steps in the right direction help me feel successful.
For my students, I encourage them to seek success through growth. I hope my students feel confident when they accomplish a hard task, meet a set goal, or feel proud of themselves. I hope my class helps students seek success every day.
MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?
Alexa: I hope my students always remember how much I truly care about them as people. I strive for my kids to know that they are loved the moment they walk into my room. My students know that my door and email are always open even when they are no longer part of my class. They are forever “Guynes’ Grizzlies” to me.
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