Teachers of the Year are selected based on recommendation at the school level and approval by a committee. The award highlights teachers who have an outstanding professional record of academic excellence, dedication, and leadership in education. Nominees are then reviewed by a committee of administrators and a former teacher of the year to select system-wide winners.
“We’re fortunate that we have so many great teachers in our system, and this is one way to recognize those individuals that stand out,” said Assistant Director of Schools Richard VanHuss, who supervises the selection process.
Elizabethton native Travis Smithdeal was named 2018 Teacher of the Year for grades 5-8. He holds a bachelor’s degree in K-8 Education from East Tennessee State University and has been teaching for 14 years. He currently teaches 7th grade Math and Social studies and 6th grade TAD Life at T. A. Dugger Jr. High School.
He has been a middle school varsity and junior varsity football coach for 16 years – 15 of which were at TAD. During his last two seasons, the team went completely undefeated. He has also sponsored Fellowship of Christian Athletes for the last 12 years.
Smithdeal believes teaching is like planting a seed – it takes commitment, consistency, and passion. “It’s all about the students,” he said. “You cannot do this job if you are not in it for the students.”
His advice for new teachers is to find ways to enjoy the job and help students enjoy class, while still preparing them for required tests. Balancing this enjoyment and high expectations is the art of teaching.
“Anyone can teach, but to be a successful teacher, you have to learn classroom management, and that takes time and experience,” he said. “Set the expectations that you have for them from the beginning and never waver.”
He doesn’t expect students to love everything they do in his class, but he always expects their personal best effort in everything they do. This is because he sees opportunity ahead for each of them. Regardless of their background or circumstances, he believes education gives all students the opportunity to do or be whatever they want to someday.
When asked what he sees in his students that he wants the community to appreciate, he said, “There is hope in and for the next generation.”