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Lori Farley in library photo

TPTE Alumna Lori Farley named 2018 East Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Written by Kristin Rearden, clinical professor, STEM education/science.

Lori Farley (’03, ’04) entered teaching as an intern in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education (TPTE) elementary education program at Lenoir City Elementary School. Her career path has taken unexpected turns and led to extraordinary outcomes, including the title of the 2018-19 East Tennessee Grand Division Teacher of the Year.

Farley was offered a 5th grade position at Lenoir City Elementary School after her internship, and initially envisioned remaining there for her teaching career. “I thought I would be in one school at the same grade level forever, but my career has been so different from that,” said Farley. After a year in Lenoir City, Farley taught in Sullivan County Schools and Kingsport City Schools before taking an associate principal position at John F. Kennedy Elementary in Kingsport. When an opportunity opened closer to home, she accepted a media specialist position at North City Elementary in the Athens City School district.  She had some trepidation about the career path change but looking back has no regrets.

An unexpected benefit of being a media specialist is the number of students with whom Farley interacts.  “I have so much fun because I get to teach every child in the school,” said Farley. “I’ve worked with my 5th graders now for three full years, and it’s amazing to see their growth.” Part of her teaching involves empowering her students to lead. Farley strives to create a library that is student-led by seeking their input and letting them know whenever she uses their suggestions. “I learn right along with my students,” said Farley, “and want them to have the opportunity to really shine as the experts in the classroom.”

Thinking back to her teacher preparation in TPTE, Farley was quick to recall several professors who were key to her success. “Deborah Wooten, professor of literacy studies, always made me feel like I had chosen the right profession. She definitely built my confidence,” said Farley. “In my work as an adjunct professor for preservice teacher education at Tennessee Wesleyan University, I have really tried to take what I learned from her and bring that sense of relationships and encouragement as well.” Another professor was Tom Turner, who recently retired after nearly 40 years as a social science educator. “Dr. Turner’s storytelling class showed his passion for teaching. He gave us two tips: Never read a story to students that you have not read yourself and always read the ending very slowly. I have always heeded that advice!” said Farley. A third professor was Pattie Davis-Wiley, professor of world languages. “She would share stories and pictures and really brought that personal aspect to the classroom,” noted Farley. “Overall, during my time in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, teacher preparation program, I learned the importance of relationships and role models in addition to professional preparation. As a new teacher, I felt equipped from the start.”

When asked about her advice for new teachers, Farley listed the following:

  • Foster positivity. “There are so many incredible things going on in education. As educators, we have to advocate for our career and how amazing it really is. I can’t imagine doing something else. Teaching is the best job!”
  • Lead from where you are. “I have been in roles where I had an official leadership title, and other times where I led as a classroom teacher through sharing what I was doing. Don’t get caught up in having a title.”
  • Give yourself credit. “Social media images of what other teachers are doing can be overwhelming. Remember that we are all different. We all have something to offer to our kids. Celebrate the special talents that you bring to the classroom.”
  • Teaching is not a perfectible job. “That’s something I need to remind myself constantly. We are always going to be refining and meeting our kids where we they are. We are always making that effort to do what is right for our kids. It’s ok to not be perfect!”

You can read more about Farley’s accolades here.