Photo Credit: Tina Reid

Science teacher Amber Kimbrell accepts the 2020 Madison County Teacher of the Year award.

Ten Questions With Teacher of the Year Amber Kimbrell

CC. How did it feel to get Teacher Of The Year?

Mrs. Amber Kimbrell: I was really surprised. When Mr. Shaw was naming the qualities of the person chosen to be Sparkman’s Teacher of the Year, I leaned over to Ms. Pate and started telling her names of other people who fit the criteria. She said, no, it’s you silly and it was!!! After becoming Sparkman’s Teacher of the Year, I knew I wanted to try my hardest to win Madison County Teacher of the Year. I was super excited when I was named a finalist and then ecstatic when I was announced the winner.

CC. What is your teaching philosophy?

AK: An outstanding teacher starts with building strong relationships. A teacher can be a master of content, but without a personal connection with students, the most reluctant students will not engage in learning. I make my students feel comfortable in my classroom, with me, and with each other. Additionally, I create a student-centered, bright, and friendly environment. Each year, my first few class sessions are filled with icebreakers and team-building exercises which lay the foundation for interpersonal relationships and classroom discussions. My students trust me so they are more apt to let me know when they are struggling. Because of our relationship, I am able to know when my students are having an off day and when I can push them a bit harder to learn the content. My students trust each other so they are more willing to ask their classmates for help.

Furthermore, the foundation of my classroom is student-centered learning. A teacher once told me that the ones who are doing the talking are the ones who are doing the learning. Therefore, I place the content in the hands of students by limiting my lecture time and focusing on inquiry labs, group work, and individual assignments. My job is to watch students work, ask probing questions, and correct misconceptions as they occur. 

CC: How have you adapted to 2020?

AK: Google classroom has become my best friend. I have transformed a lot of worksheets into google forms and implemented more project based learning. The key terms this year are flexibility and patience! Something is bound to go wrong and change. So, I do the best I can and expect the same from my students while showing grace. 

CC: How do you bring science to life during Google Meets?

AK: The best part of science in a typical year is how hands-on it is. Students (and teachers) love doing labs! We love getting our hands dirty and seeing science unfold before us. Sadly, labs and Google Meets don’t go together. So, my google meets typically consist of me welcoming every student who logs on and asking them how they are doing or an ice breaker type question like what’s your go to snack item. Then, I talk about science as enthusiastically as I can while screen sharing diagrams, worksheets, etc. 

CC: What made you choose the teaching profession?

AK: My road to becoming a teacher started in seventh grade when my friend and I signed up to be teachers’ aides to avoid art class. Between the giggling and goofing off that undoubtedly accompanies middle schoolers, we graded papers, typed worksheets, made bulletin boards, and unknowingly fell in love with teaching.

When I entered college, I planned to become a doctor. Over the course of four years, I developed an appreciation of science education and lost my desire to attend medical school. I reflected on my experiences, remembered the happiness imparting knowledge brought me, and thus decided to become a teacher. 

CC: How do you keep your lessons fresh and updated?

AK: I keep detailed notes of previous lessons: how students received them, what I should change for next year, etc. When an activity works well it stays in rotation for the next year. When an activity doesn’t accomplish its purpose, it either gets revamped or I find a new one. There is a really active AP Biology Facebook group where teachers from all over the world share their resources. It is an amazing community to be a part of and I get some of my best activities from there.

CC. How do you motivate your students?

AK: I motivate my students by building relationships with them. They know that I want them to succeed and that I believe in them. So, they prove me right and rise to the challenge.

CC: Who was your biggest influence in teaching?

AK: I wouldn’t say I have one influence, but rather a mosaic of best practices I observed in other educators.. It took me a while to decide who I wanted to be as a teacher. I tried to mimic other accomplished teachers, but my students were not responding to me the same way I saw in the other teacher’s classrooms.  

CC: Tell us about your “best teaching moment”.

AK: I don’t think teachers one have just one best teaching moment. I find the rewards of teaching are most often intangible. It’s the lightbulb going off in a student’s head when they understand a difficult concept, the email you get a few years later from a student thanking you for all the effort you put into them, and the smile you receive from students when you are out in public. 

CC: What do you do when you’re off duty?

AK: Off duty times are spent mostly at home with Piper, my four year old daughter, Clint, my husband, and Curly, our dog. We like to travel (during non-pandemic times). Piper has already been to Canada twice (Quebec City and Vancouver), Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Tennessee and Florida. Piper and I spend as many summer days at the lake as possible. I enjoy reading, crossword puzzles and Words with Friends

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