As many a teacher will affirm, it’s exhausting to juggle daily wrangling of students with any extracurricular duties and whatever shreds of home life that fill the gaps. Adding the responsibility of being the statewide face of education to that is an order of the tallest variety.
“It’s been really quite the whirlwind this whole entire year,” Suzanne Culbreth said.
Culbreth, a Spain Park geometry teacher, was named Alabama’s 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year in May. Since then, Culbreth can be found at the Alabama Board of Education in Montgomery or appearing at education functions where she spends her time talking with other teachers, assisting in the development of curriculum for upcoming school terms and serving on various committees. But with the recognition comes a good bit of travel time, and she’s been spending about five days a month away from her 120 ninth and 10th grade students.
“Well, right now I’ve got one foot in the classroom and one out,” Culbreth said. “I’ve had the opportunity to speak to groups of potential teachers and it’s really exciting to share with those folks, but thankfully I can still be in the classroom where my heart really is.”
Hoover City Schools made it possible for Culbreth to don the mantle of Teacher of the Year by providing her with a full-time substitute teacher named Jeannie Jackson, previously a math teacher at Pelham High School.
“Having full time sub really opens me up even more,” Culbreth said.
Jackson said she jumped at the opportunity when Culbreth approached her with the offer to spend a year under Culbreth’s guidance, adding that filling in for the Teacher of the Year – while an amazing educational opportunity – can add anxiety to a normal day in the classroom.
“I do feel like there’s extra pressure because I want to do as well as she does, but I know my four years of experience can’t compare with her 30,” Jackson said. “ So I put the pressure on myself, but I just want to live up to her standards.”
Jackson added that Culbreth’s platform as Teacher of the Year is teacher mentorship, and it shows in their daily interaction.
“I always thought she was the best math teacher there was,” Jackson said. “There’s no way I could pass up working with her.”
Culbreth is also the automatic nominee for the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO’s) National Teacher of the Year. The award is presented annually to one of four finalists, and the President introduces the winner in Washington D.C. In April, Gay Barnes, an elementary teacher from Madison County and the 2011-2012 Alabama Teacher of the Year, was selected as a finalist and was invited to the White House.
“So, no pressure there,” Culbreth said. “But I have some big shoes to fill.”
Culbreth, a 28-year teaching veteran, has been at Spain Park since 2008 and taught at Oak Mountain from 2002-2008. In 2011, she was both the Spain Park and Hoover City Schools’ Teacher of the Year, as well as the Alabama Finalist for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.