Friday, March 7, 2014

Alumna could win teaching excellence awards

Tracy Earley Proffitt ’04 is in the running for the McGlothlin Awards for Teaching Excellence, a prestigious annual award that recognizes outstanding teachers with prizes of $25,000.

Proffitt, who teaches in the Gifted Opportunities Center at Lynchburg City’s R.S. Payne Elementary School, will find out in April whether she is one of this year’s McGlothlin Awards winners.

Proffitt has been a teacher for most of the 10 years since she graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. She and her husband, also a teacher, spent three years working together in another field but then recognized their calling was in the classroom. “We both realized that teaching is where we want to come back to,” she said.

Her students and their parents are glad that Proffitt came to that realization. “She really knows how to stimulate a young child’s imagination and channel it into learning,” said Mari Ishibashi, a Randolph political science professor whose son, Elliot, is in Proffitt’s class. “She makes learning enjoyable, creative, and challenging for students.”

Proffitt employs a “flipped classroom” approach, in which many of her lectures are recorded for students to watch at home so more class time is spent on application. Her assignments involve hands-on activities and creative ways of thinking about the concepts.

For example, one assignment asked students to design a playground and describe it to demonstrate their understanding of force and motion. Ishibashi said such challenges help her son enjoy learning. “I really like the fact that he feels so excited, not burdened, about the prospect of doing these projects,” she said.

Proffitt gained the courage to teach this way in part thanks to her fourth grade teacher, who had a similar teaching style. Proffitt said that Randolph’s liberal arts education, and especially the teacher education curriculum, taught her about setting and meeting high standards.

“There was no room to be a slacker and not meet the expectations,” she recalled. “That has carried over to my classroom. If I have high expectations, then my students meet them. If they are not capable of meeting them, then I get involved and help them.”

She also learned about the personal touch that helps in teaching. “I had professors who really invested in me, who, outside of class, cared about what was going on. I try to be that for my students, too.”