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The Corley family: Jameson, from left, Jonah, Jennifer and Lincoln. Jennifer is the 2022 “Teacher of the Year” at Midtown Elementary School. PHOTO / Frank Jimenez

Corley reigns as ‘Teacher of the Year’ at Midtown

MADISON – Jennifer Corley believes students must feel that their teacher loves them unconditionally and accepts them as individuals. When students feel loved, safe and accepted, they are ready to learn.

Corley is 2022 “Teacher of the Year” at Midtown Elementary School.

Corley’s teaching career began in 2005 in Orlando. She taught fourth-graders for four years and third-graders for six years in Central Florida.

After moving to North Alabama, Corley briefly taught a Huntsville kindergarten class, followed by one year with fifth-graders in English language arts at the Academy for Academics & Arts.

Those assignments were “before teaching in this amazing district (Madison City Schools) where I was hired to teach sixth-grade social studies at West Madison Elementary,” she said. When sixth-graders moved to middle schools in 2018, Corley switched to kindergarten and has taught that grade for four years.

“I can hardly believe I’ve been doing my dream job for 17 years!” Corley said.

This summer will mark her second year for teaching Kindergarten English Language Acquisition or ELA Asynchronous lessons for the district. Educators created these virtual lessons “to keep students from regressing over the summer, also known as the ‘summer slide,’” Corley said.

In addition, she participated in the 1:1 Task Force Technology Committee this year, serving as kindergarten representative for the district’s 1:1 initiative.

For the core of her teaching philosophy, Corley endorses thoughts of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung: “An understanding heart is everything in a teacher and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touch our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

“My classroom is not the quietest, I’m not the strictest teacher, but I foster love, silliness, dancing, mistake-making, forgiving, mess-making (and cleaning up), confidence boosting, creativity and student-centered learning,” Corley said. “I keep a regular routine, but, as in life, each day has unexpected challenges and students must learn to adapt.”

Corley has high expectations for her students. “I believe in them . . . that they can do hard things. Students gain confidence and independence in the classroom. I try not to pressure young students, rather when they master something, celebrate together as a community.”

“It’s such a joy to hear one student tell a classmate words of affirmation when he or she reaches a goal or mastered something that was difficult,” Corley said.

For everyone in education, this school year was extremely challenging. “Any student who made learning gains this year is a success! A couple of students began not knowing any letters or sounds . . . who are now reading! I’m extremely proud of them,” Corley said.

“Success depends on each student as an individual. I borrowed an idea from an amazing third-grade teacher at Midtown and created a yard sign for my students who master reading all 50 sight words. That was a big motivator for my students,” Corley said.

The sign states “A SUPER sight word READER lives here.” She drives to the student’s house after school with a treat, certificate and the yard sign that can stand for one week. After the first visit, students were eager to practice words and asked Corley daily to assess them. “I don’t know who enjoyed these quick visits more — the students or myself,” she said.

At Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Corley earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a minor in Australian studies. She grew up in Deltona, Fla.

Her husband Jonah Corley manages a plant for Valicor Environmental Services. Their twin sons, Jameson and Lincoln, attend Midtown.

Jennifer is the author of two children’s books, “Do Superheroes Brush Their Teeth?” and “Do Superheroes Go to School?”

“I love to read and to write. I’m in a very small book club, just a few moms who like to get together to discuss books. I also like dancing and was one class short of a minor in dance,” she said.

Jennifer also enjoys family time for watching sports, Marvel movies, riding in their boat and getting to know their new puppy.

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