published Monday, May 21st, 2012

Math teacher making an impact


by Cliff Hightower
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    Michelle Bettis is a math and algebra teacher at East Hamilton School in Ooltewah, TN. Bettis is a nominee for the Education in Excellence award.
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  • Excellence in education: Michelle Bettis
    Michelle Bettis is a teacher at East Hamilton Middle School. She is a finalist for the first ever Excellence in Public Education Awards for Greater Hamilton County.

ABOUT THE WINNER Michelle Bettis

Age: 37

Education: Bachelor’s degree in education from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; master’s degree in education from Tusculum College

Years at school: Has worked at East Hamilton Middle High School two years

Years in education: Has worked in Hamilton County Schools for 10 years

Personal: 3 children, two boys and a girl

QUOTE ABOUT THE FINALIST

“She really inspires her kids to be their best.”

— Chrissy Easterly, assistant principal at East Hamilton Middle High School

LITTLE-KNOWN FACT

Michelle Bettis now works with the same teacher who inspired her in sixth grade to go into teaching — Jo Roberson.

There was only one thing Michelle Bettis ever dreamed about.

That dream was to stand in front of a classroom and inspire children as she had been inspired herself.

“When I was in first grade my mom would write down what I wanted to be, and every year it was a teacher,” she said.

The inspiration she has given to the children in her eighth grade math classes at East Hamilton Middle High School has helped make her a finalist in the 2012 Education in Excellence awards.

Margay McGee, a guidance counselor at East Hamilton Middle High School, nominated Bettis for the award.

“Michelle Bettis is an outstanding teacher, not only in the classroom, but also in the way she connects with her students and makes them shine,” McGee wrote in the nomination form. “All the while, never taking any credit for herself.”

McGee wrote in her nomination that Bettis is a teacher who looks after all children — whether they are a star pupil or a struggling learner. McGee wrote about a time when Bettis took a trip to the Volkswagen facility with a group of National Junior Honor Society students.

She wrote that the trip was for star academic students, but Bettis also took a group of students who had failed their grades the last year.

“Why?” McGee wrote. “Because they might never get this chance again, and if it motivates one of them to turn his/her life around then it was worth it — according to Ms. Bettis.”

The best part of teaching for Bettis is the students, she said. Last year, she taught 7th grade and moved to 8th grade this year. She works as a chapter sponsor for the National Junior Honor Society.

She said the biggest challenge for her and other teachers is dealing with classrooms of 30 or more students.

“It’s the numbers at the school,” she said.

Bettis said one thing she would like to see more is involvement by community leaders, parents and grandparents. When people do become involved, sometimes they overlook basic needs such as staples or paper, she said.

It’s just not about going out and buying a brand-new copy machine, she said.

“A lot of times, people look at the big things and overlook the small things,” she said.

One teacher who works with Bettis helped inspire her. Jo Roberson teaches 7th grade language arts and taught Bettis when she was in sixth grade.

Roberson said Bettis is compassionate and creative with some outside-the-box thinking skills.

“Being creative comes natural to her,” Roberson said. “You don’t see that in a math person, and it’s extraordinary.”

Chrissy Easterly, assistant principal at East Hamilton Middle High School, directly supervises Bettis and knows that creativity well. She said one example is when Bettis helped arrange a “Day of One’s” to celebrate Nov. 11, 2011, and veterans. The event turned into a schoolwide celebration of the number 11 with students celebrating birthdays that day, children who wore size 11 shoes and those who worn the number 11 on their sports uniforms.

“She has created activities we have not done in the past,” Easterly said.

Bettis is an unselfish teacher, Easterly said.

“I think her main goal and purpose is to give students opportunities,” she said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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