Middle Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year Finalist Alison Payne described her work at Bradley Academy as “very rewarding.”
Alison Payne, Tennessee Teacher of the Year finalist for the Middle Tennessee region, shows off her award with Murfreesboro City Schools Director Linda Gilbert. (Photo submitted)
That work recently earned her a title that is highly sought after among educators across the state.
Just past the library at Bradley Academy is a small, shared office where Payne works diligently to help children with special needs.
“I focus on helping every child succeed no matter what level they’re at; that’s been my philosophy” Payne said. “What do I need to do to try to get to get to know the child, work with them, and find out what motivates them.”
Her journey into teaching began at a young age in Allentown, Pa., where she spent her childhood, pretending to be a schoolteacher through games as little children often do.
“I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was a little girl, I would play school and would help my friends with their work and just had the passion,” Payne said in her modest soft-spoken manner.
Recalling teachers from her childhood, Payne spoke about one particular school lesson that made a major impact on her.
“I remember when we studied about Africa, we learned songs, we wrote songs, and made dances. She tied the math and everything into that. I thought it was so cool and I wanted to grow up and be like that,” Payne said.
Though originally from Pennsylvania, Payne has spent most of her life in Middle Tennessee.
She explained how her parents divorced when she was in high school, and her mother wanted to make a change.
“Mama wanted a fresh start so we moved to the Nashville area and then I came to college here, got a job and stayed,” Payne said with a smile.
She proudly studied at MTSU for each of her three degrees in education.
“Go Blue Raiders.” she said, raising her fist as if at a football game cheering her alma mater.
Attending college, she knew she wanted to work with special needs children, but as her schooling went on she found herself slightly changing focus.
“I started out at school wanting to work with severely handicapped children, but found my niche was more with kids who had learning disabilities that could stay in the regular classroom, but needed that boost,” Payne explained.
Now a school psychologist at Bradley Academy, Payne mainly works with children having trouble in academic areas or more severe behavior problems.
It isn’t just the children who need help sometimes.
“We work with parents as well about testing or getting medication for their child,” Payne said.
With challenges of making sure children arrive at school fed and clothed, Payne finds her work to be very rewarding when she sees children and families making progress in areas where they have struggled.
Payne also works with gifted children to help keep them challenged.
“Tennessee recognizes children who are gifted as disabled just because they need something extra. If a child is truly gifted, to keep them challenged and working at a high level, that is almost like a disability,” Payne said.
Teacher of the Year is highly competitive with educators seeking the title every year.
It is a process of lengthy applications and interviews at five different levels from school wide to statewide.
It is an honor at any level, but earning the regional title and attending the state banquet as a finalist is no doubt an achievement.
With 24 years of experience in teaching, Payne has found that helping children is what motivates her. It is dedication to her job that has earned her a shot to be Tennessee Teacher of the Year.
“It’s my 24th year, and I still get excited coming in everyday and still want to learn,” Payne said.