Spotlight: Melody Tucker (AL '15)March 7, 2016
Dr. Melody Tucker (AL '15) drives her students hard and holds them to high standards. Why? Kids often don't realize their own potential, she says, until they're pushed beyond their limits. She received her Milken Educator Award at Citronelle High School on January 19, 2016.
Milken Family Foundation: How did you end up in education?
Dr. Melody Tucker: It may surprise many, but I actually did not always want to become a teacher. While in college, I always worked summer programs with young people where I tutored students and was a camp counselor. I always loved working with young people but did not think a career in teaching was for me. I was pre-med in college but my junior year I had an "aha" moment and realized my calling to join the field of education. I come from a family of educators: My mom, sister, and numerous cousins are teachers. I thought I was the one who was going to be different in the family and not become a classroom instructor, but ultimately I followed the rest of my family members' paths. It has been the best decision I have ever made. I have a job that not only allows me to help students grow academically, but I grow as an individual and continue to become a lifelong learner.
MFF: What was your first job?
Melody: I was a carhop at a Sonic Drive-In. That job taught me how to be dedicated to an employer, properly manage money, and work for my goals. The things I learned from that job have become transition skills that I have carried with me into the classroom. For example, I now understand how to be a loyal and effective employee for a company and an employer. In addition, I know how to set goals, make a plan to achieve them, and set up strategies to work toward those goals.
MFF: Who was your most memorable teacher?
Melody: Mrs. Rachel Goram, my seventh-grade science teacher. She had a passion for science and teaching. Her goal with all of her students was to help them cultivate a passion for science and learning. She is the first teacher who helped me foster my love of science. In her class I realized that science was fun and that I could discover something new every day.
MFF: Tell us about your first class.
Melody: It was a freshman biology course. The first day of class, I don't think teachers are fully prepared for all the situations they will encounter. Once I stood in front of my first teaching class I had a boost of confidence and thought to myself, This is really it. I saw a group of bright-eyed students eager to learn and looking to me for direction. At that moment I realized the influence of a teacher. Every day I am the captain of my classroom, and I have great power in my hands to help steer my students' view of school, learning, and science.
That year I got first-hand experience of how much work goes into teaching. This caught me by surprise. I was staying at the school until night, bringing papers home to grade and creating lesson plans, while trying to study for the lesson that I would teach the next day. The passion that I had for teaching made me work harder every day to be prepared for my students and create more innovative lessons and activities. The joy that I saw in my students every day made all those long nights worth it.
MFF: A student is thinking about a career in education. What do you say?
Melody: I would definitely get the student to focus on the intrinsic motivation that comes from a career in education. Some of the motivation comes from helping to foster the student's love of learning. Every person in a great job, whether it's a doctor, engineer, or astronaut, was taught by teachers. As a teacher, you get to touch many lives each year. The students you touch will remember you forever, and you can help change their lives. If you want a career that leaves a lasting imprint on people's lives and helps them reach their goals, then a career in education is the way to go.
MFF: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?
Melody: It allowed my students to see that hard work pays off. Many of my students understand that I provide a rigorous learning environment in order to help them build their learning skills and achieve their goals. Receiving this award validated my teaching. It showed them that the methods I use to prepare them received national recognition. Many of my students actually try harder in class because they now understand the value of my teaching. They got to see first-hand that the effort that I put into teaching has its rewards. I try to encourage them to put forth that same effort in their own lives so they can experience the thrill of knowing that hard work does pay off.
MFF: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Melody: As a teacher, my day is full from the time I get to school until the time I leave. There is very little down time. My favorite time of the school day is right before the morning bell rings. When I get to school I am excited about the possibilities that can happen in my classroom. Before the school day starts, I try to run through my lessons and think about the various learning scenarios that may occur throughout the day. This fuels my passion for teaching because my heart is full of hope and enthusiasm for the learning goals that my students will accomplish.
MFF: If someone gave you a million dollars to use for your school, what would you do with it?
Melody: First I would make sure all teachers have the basic equipment necessary to provide students with a 21st-century learning environment. I think it is very important to provide students with after school-activities, summer activities, and internships. I would use the money to develop and fund programs the students can be involved in to provide them hands-on learning and career preparedness opportunities — for example, providing paid internship programs with local corporations where our students may eventually work.
At our school, funding has been cut for many enrichment activities such as art, robotics, dance, etc. I would bring these programs back to the school. They are a pivotal part of providing students with both a well-rounded education and fun.
MFF: When you retire, what do you want your former students and colleagues to say about you?
Melody: My favorite slogan in my classroom is "go above and beyond." Every one of my students says those words daily; it's something I instill in them from the first day of class. I try to get them to understand their potential. Many times students do not realize their potential until they are pushed beyond their limits. In my classroom, I try to provide a rigorous learning environment that pushes my students beyond their limits while providing them scaffolding and support, so they can realize they can achieve more than they ever thought. Many teachers and students say that I am a challenging teacher and I agree. But at the end of my class the students not only learn science,they learn life skills such as perseverance, diligence, and problem-solving, which will help them throughout their lives.
MFF: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Melody: I have always wanted a career in which I help people achieve their goals. If I had not chosen education and helping people achieve their academic goals, I would have chosen physical therapy. I'd be helping people achieve their physical goals and still be in science, which I love.
MFF: Finish this sentence: "I know I’m succeeding as an educator when..."
Melody: "...my students realize their potential and have that 'aha' moment that feeds their passion for learning."
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