Alli Phelps’ name might have gotten media attention after being named Alabama Teacher of the Year Alternate for this school year, but what she is perhaps most excited about as she represents teachers across the state this year is not herself but sharing about her English learner students. “Who my kids are is sometimes unseen, but I think the world of my kids and their families,” she says. “I am excited for them to be seen.” Here she shares some about the road to her new title and what she is passionate about within her role at Shades Cahaba.
Tell us about your students.
I teach English learners, so I work with language and cultural minority students. It takes most people five to seven years to learn a language fluently and three to five for basic communication skills. It is so awesome to see kids give it their all. They love to learn, and they love to learn English. I think they are amazing—we call them emerging bilinguals—and to have the gift to know two and sometimes three languages is amazing. They blow me away.
What were some highlights of the Teacher of the Year selection process?
To have my amazing colleagues say they wanted me to represent them at a school level meant so much to me. Once I got to the Final Four for the state, I went through a 20-person interview, and our school system put me through a mock interview first. I learned so much through the whole experience.
What educational passions did you get to share about when interviewing for state Teacher of the Year?
One thing I care deeply about is family and community engagement. A few years ago I decided I was going to do home visits with all of my students, and they have made me a better person. I think the world of the kids I teach and the families I work with, and I wish everyone in Homewood could meet them. Equity is also very important to me. Those two facets are the platform I believe in for the way I teach and the way I live. How do we connect with our students? How do we bridge the gap between home and school?
You started a Book Nook in partnership with Little Professor. Can you tell us about it?
In the past my students haven’t had immediate access to books they wanted to read. I started dreaming about getting books in my kids’ hands immediately. If my own children, who are now grown, wanted to read a book, we would go buy it, and for a lot of families in this school they have that kind of accessibility. But my students at Shades Cahaba have language and socioeconomic barriers with reading, and I want to bust up those barriers. I reached out to Little Professor, and we created this partnership called the Book Nook. People can go on their website and shop for books that go directly to my classroom and into the hands of students. I am super excited about that.
Can you share a bit about what your day-to-day looks like?
I teach six grade levels, and I am the only teacher at Shades Cahaba who teaches English learners. What I love about this is I get to see these kids grow. How I can serve them could mean I go into a fifth-grade classroom during reading and we work on poetry, or that I pull kindergartners out for small group instruction in my classroom and setup a dining room table, pretend I am their server and they have to ask me for their order. I have a lot of flexibility to give the students what they need. They have to take an English test every year, and until they reach a certain score on that test I work with them. I have had as many as 70 students that I work with, and last year I had 40.