Winner, Judge's Award for Best Middle School Teacher

Pamela Reed: Winner, Judge's Award for Best Middle School Teacher

Sixth-grade Reading/Language Arts Teacher, Buckeye Middle School, Columbus City Schools

Pamela Reed admits she was "that student" in grade school: hard to reach and hard to teach. But several of the teachers she encountered found ways to ignite what has become a lifelong passion for reading, writing and learning in Reed. Now, as a reading and language arts teacher at Buckeye Middle School in the Columbus City Schools district, she is finding ways to inspire other hard-to-reach students.

"I was the kid who was always in trouble - whose inner creativity was stifled with worksheets and rote memorization," Reed wrote, when answering the questions posed for the Teachers of the Year contest judges. "My fifth grade teacher allowed me to spread my wings and fly - writing a play we actually performed, starting a school newspaper and writing poetry. That same desire to discover my students' unseen potential is why I absolutely love being an educator."

Being an urban educator also has become Reed's passion. While attending Otterbein University, she student-taught in the Columbus City Schools district and, upon graduation, took a job at Buckeye Middle School. Fifteen years later, she's still there and enjoying every challenge her students bring her.

"It's so dynamic and it's never, ever, ever dull," Reed said about teaching middle-school students. "You see them forming as adults."

Growing up in the rural community of Mount Gilead, about 45 miles north of Columbus, Reed said there was maybe one minority student in her entire school. But her parents' working-class values that made her sensitive to the economic needs of others.

"My dad worked in a factory and my mother cleaned houses," Reed said. "I was raised with these values that believed in equity and I purposely sought out urban experiences with my teaching."

Reed wrote eloquently about the impact that her students have on her, recalling a poetry reading they recently participated in at the Columbus Arts Festival: "…while other schools' poems seemed to be about butterflies and runaway dogs, our poems were real and raw…I was in awe of Corey who read about his mom's boyfriend physically abusing her while she cried in the audience. Destiny shared how difficult it was to find her mom in black-outs from addiction…The pride that welled up in me, and continues to, reminds me why I teach."

The impact that Reed has on her Buckeye Middle School family was evident in the questionnaires they filled out about her. Her colleague Phillip Hankins wrote, "I was walking by her classroom one day and could hear a buzz of excitement…I was drawn in and stood in the doorway and observed…Ms. Reed would ask a question and about every hand in the classroom was raised. Then as she selected students, they would sing and dance (using mnemonic devices) that Ms. Reed had taught them to help them remember parts of speech." And the school's assistant principal, Derick Vickroy, wrote: "She often chooses some of the most difficult students to work with and mentor…She is a teacher for all the right reasons: to touch children's lives and provide opportunities beyond the limits of the school day."

Reed also has been instrumental in creating a service learning program at the school, using off-campus activities to enrich the curriculum. One of her favorites focused on the issue of stereotypes and bias: The students visited and interviewed residents of a nearby retirement home, allowing them to experience then break through the stereotypes they had about the elderly. Many of the students still visit the home, Reed said, having gotten hooked on soaking up new information about their world, just as she loves to do.

"I am a nerd," Reed laughed. "It's at the heart of everything I do. I love to learn."

Interviewed only a few weeks after the 2012-13 school year had let out, she was already looking forward to the start of the 2013-14 school year.

"I get itchy to go back in mid-July," she said.

Winner, People's Choice Award >>