Teacher of the year "champion of lost students"
Beth Hammett always has a project – whether helping collect lesson plans and materials into ready-to-go packets for teachers in Oklahoma schools devastated by tornadoes, tutoring a student at Starbucks or teaching soldiers in Afghanistan via Skype. Students in her classes at College of the Mainland selected her for Teacher of the Year for her innovation and willingness to go the extra mile for any student.
“A champion of the ‘lost students,’ she is goal-oriented, diligent and persistent,” said Sandra Walker, one of the students on the teacher of the year committee. “She steps out of the box to find ways to help students.”
For ten years Hammett has used her creative methods to teach developmental writing classes at COM for those needing preparation before taking college-level classes.
“I love what I do, especially developmental classes,” said Hammett. “That’s the first class students get. They’re just scared.”
Working with students from all backgrounds, she has faced many challenges. She vividly recalls three high school graduates who approached her after class.
“They came to me in tears, and they said, ‘We can’t read,’” she remembered. “They weren’t kidding.”
Starting at the beginning, Hammett taught them to read so they would have a chance of succeeding in education. It’s just one of the many ways she’s made a difference.
“She is easy to talk to about class work and personal stuff,” said one of her students, who recommended her for the award anonymously. “She teaches in a way that is easy to understand. She always has us laughing in class. If I ever have any issues in my future college life, she will be the first I go to.”
One way she reassures students is by relating her own story.
“I grew up in a one-stoplight town,” Hammett said. “I started in developmental (classes) and look where I ended up.”
After graduating from high school in Oklahoma with a diploma and drafting certification, Hammett worked a number of jobs. Though she enjoyed drafting housing plans, there was never much demand for it in her area, so she decided to return to a two-year school, Murray State College. While juggling family life and school, she earned an associate degree, then a bachelor’s, then a master’s.
“People ask which degree I value most,” Hammett said. “It was really my community college degree. I had kids at home and a disabled husband. It was tough. When I got my two-year degree, I knew I could do it.”
After graduation, she applied for a teaching position at a local school and was handed a job application and food stamps paperwork – a new teacher’s salary was $22,000 per year. With a family to help support, she moved to Texas for a job working with at-risk students at Clear Creek ISD. She later taught at Dickinson ISD and the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
While teaching seventh graders at McAdams Junior High in Dickinson ISD, she won “Sunshine Teacher of the Year” from KHOU-TV. Teaching middle school students to journal and write essays was perfect preparation for teaching college students, she said.
“I love that age group,” she said. “A lot of college students are seventh graders in bigger bodies. A lot of them score on sixth to seventh-grade levels. We get one semester to catch them up.”
Undaunted by the challenge, she works to allay students’ fears. For many it’s not only their first experience in higher education but also a class in a dreaded subject.
“A lot of people are scared of writing,” she said. “I try to relate it to driving. Think about how scared you are to get on the highway at first. Once you learn what signs mean and where to go, it’s not so scary. In writing, once you get basic rules down, you can go anywhere and do anything with it.”
Frequently she shares her tips and tricks on teacher collaboration and lesson planning sites, including Teachers Pay Teachers. She recently won an iPad for having the most frequently downloaded lessons during a contest on Share My Resources, a website that encourages teachers to share common core lesson plans with fellow educators.
“To me that’s what it’s about, sharing,” she said. “There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.”
She also writes and grades essays for the College Board, which creates AP exams.
“If you’ve taken any of those tests, you’ve probably seen my writing,” said Hammett.
With the summer off, she plans to spend more time with her grandchildren and her other projects.
“Then I’ll be ready to go back to work,” added Hammett. “I learn something different every semester. I always make a lot of friends. We’re not just teachers, really. We’re life coaches, we’re counselors, we’re curriculum writers, we’re sounding boards.”