Former Virginia Lottery Super Teacher Summer Davis delivers a lesson to students in her third-grade class at Alberta Smith Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Lottery Super Teachers)
You hear it often: Teaching is a thankless job. But everyone who knows a great teacher has a chance to give him or her a big thank you — and then some — for all the hard work.
In 2017, the Virginia Lottery will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its Super Teacher awards. Nominations open on Monday, Jan. 2, and close Feb. 13. Eight educators – one from each region of the state – will be chosen as winners. With the honor comes a $2,000 cash prize and a $2,000 credit for classroom supplies. (To make a nomination, visit vasuperteacher.com.)
One past winner, Summer Davis, is a third-grade teacher at Alberta Smith Elementary School in Chesterfield County, where she has worked for 15 years. Davis, a military brat who graduated from Colonial Heights High School, earned the honor back in 2011.
We chatted with Davis about her teaching career, how she spent her prize money and what it means to be a Virginia Lottery Super Teacher.
The following is an edited transcript.
Richmond magazine: What’s kept you at Alberta Smith for all these years?
Summer Davis: My colleagues, even though they’ve changed over the years. There’s still a core that’s been here since I started. The colleagues who have joined since then, we’ve just been really lucky to get some really great teachers here, so as long as I still feel inspired by my colleagues, I don’t feel the need to change. It’s a family atmosphere [at our] school.
RM: What’s the first important lesson you learned as a new teacher?
Davis: Learning to collaborate. I think a lot of new teachers go in very gung-ho and have great ideas — and they do, they’re great ideas, they’re innovative ideas. But once you’re in the thick of it, you realize that thing — it takes a village. It really does. There are a lot of things you can’t do alone. It’s about teaching the kids to collaborate and learning that yourself as well.
RM: What was it like to be named a Virginia Lottery Super Teacher?
Davis: As teachers, we don’t like to toot our own horn. We love what we do, and that’s why we do it, so we are kind of humble in that sense … it really was a surreal moment. I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I think at that point I was crying a bit, so I probably looked like a hot mess. That feeling of having all these people around you and noticing what you do, and [you're] just thinking, this is what I do every day — that’s a surreal moment. Honestly, part of you looks around at the other staff members and says, 'There are so many people in that room that could have won that award.' In my head, I just thought of all the other people that do amazing work in my school as well.
RM: How did the prize money help you address the challenges you face in the classroom and improve your students’ learning experience?
Davis: It actually was very beneficial. I got $2,000 in cash and a $2,000 credit to the Supply Room Co. I actually used my money to buy iPads for my classroom, because I wanted it to be something that was awarded to my students as well, something that would help us continue to be innovative in our classroom. As a teacher, you can’t just go out and buy those iPads every day! [Laughs]
RM: What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?
Davis: I think it’s when a struggling kid finally believes in themselves, seeing that moment when someone who has such a hard time doing something finally realizes that they have the ability and they’ve had it all along; they just needed to find the right way to get it out.
RM: How often does that happen?
Davis: I think it happens even more than they even realize. I think those kids tend to be introverted and not necessarily outgoing. I think sometimes it happens even more than the teacher is aware of. Later, though, they get that smirk or smile. You just have to be looking for it.
RM: Teachers often say they have a “thankless” job. What did it mean personally for you to receive recognition for your contribution to the community?
Davis: For me, it really encouraged me to see myself as a teacher leader. It builds your confidence. As a teacher, you might believe you’re a great teacher, but to hear other people tell you that in your community makes you want to do even better and be even more innovative. Honestly, [the honor] really makes you kind of not be afraid and share what you do in your classroom and believe in yourself. What you’re doing does make a difference.