MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The art of teaching comes alive in the classroom, and MTSU education students get a front-row seat thanks to mentors from partner districts Murfreesboro City Schools and Rutherford County Schools who welcome students into their classrooms and under their wings.

To honor and recognize the work of these educators, a committee of College of Education faculty coordinated with education students to surprise four of them with a Mentor Teacher of Excellence Award in time for Teacher Appreciation Week at the start of May.

From Murfreesboro City Schools, Ashlee Barnes from Hobgood Elementary won the elementary award and Lori Chew from Salem Elementary won the special education award. From Rutherford County Schools, David Bonilla from Whitworth-Buchanan Middle won the middle school award and Brooke Singleton from Rock Springs Elementary School in La Vergne, Tennessee, won the early childhood award.

The committee developed the new award to give back to mentor teachers, said Shannon Harmon, associate professor of education.

“We wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the teachers whose classrooms we work in and who welcome us and our (student) teacher candidates with open arms,” Harmon said. “They deserve so much more than this recognition, but it is just one way we hope they will know how much they mean to us and the candidates.”

To select winners, the committee asked education students to tell them about mentor teachers going above and beyond in making a difference in their classrooms and in supporting the work of the College of Education.

“The committee met, used a rubric to score the submissions and selected at least one recipient per program in our department,” Harmon said.

Barnes, a fourth grade teacher at Hobgood, had no idea she was up for any award.

“What a wonderful recognition!” Barnes said. “It’s a huge honor. I’ve always felt like mentor teaching was a good place for me. Being recognized for it just lets me know I’m doing OK at it.”

A Smyrna, Tennessee, native, she has been a mentor teacher for seven years and mentored 12 education students.

Bonilla, a seventh grade English Language Arts teacher at Whitworth-Buchanan, said mentor teachers are a bridge between teaching and learning.

“They are experienced and high-level teachers who can show you the best practices and help you find the proper solutions,” Bonilla said.

Originally from Long Island, New York, Bonilla was also surprised by the win.

“I think teaching is something that you can fall in love with doing, but part of that comes from the support you’re given in those tough moments. I hope to be someone who can support others and help them to fall in love with teaching,” Bonilla said.

Salem’s Chew, a special education teacher and native of Smithville, Tennessee, left accounting to become a teacher 10 years ago to make a difference in other people’s lives and mentors education students to help encourage and support new teachers entering the field.

“Winning this award means having more confidence in being a mentor teacher again in the future,” Chew said. “It provides me the assurance that I am providing the support my residency (student) teacher needs.”

Troy, Tennessee, native Singleton, who teaches kindergarten at Rock Springs, felt truly honored to receive the award.

“As MTSU alumni, it is so rewarding to be recognized for successes from the program that deepened my passion for education and shaped me into who I am as a teacher,” Singleton said.

Singleton added that her student teacher, her first ever, has taught her so much as an educator as well.

MTSU’s Harmon emphasized that the college’s partnerships with mentor teachers and school districts are critical for education students.

“They are key in preparing teacher candidates to be successful while in their coursework and their first years of teaching,” she said. “We just simply cannot prepare our candidates without them. These mentor teachers do not have to put one more thing on their plate, but they do…. They are heroes who deserve all recognition!”

With this first year of the award a success, the committee plans to continue it next year.

“Mentor teachers may never know the impact they are having on their students or on their student-teacher candidates,” said Pam Ertel, associate professor of education and member of the committee. “Now more than ever we want teachers that have remained committed to their job and their students to be valued and respected.”

To learn more about the opportunities at the College of Education, visit the website https://www.mtsu.edu/education/ and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MTSUEducation/.