TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Jenniffer Callaway, Jenks Public Schools’ 2015 District Teacher of the Year, sits on a stability ball in her classroom at Jenks Alternative Center. Callaway is using the stability balls to measure their effect on student attentiveness, understanding and perceptions of their learning environment.
Looking at Jenniffer Callaway’s 22 years in education, one word accurately and succinctly describes it: growth.
Her eagerness and drive to always achieve and improve her horizons, no doubt, played a major role in her being named Jenks Public Schools’ 2015 District Teacher of the Year.
At Cameron University, where Callaway earned her undergraduate degree, she eventually switched her major from marketing and business to the degree that her parents always knew that she would choose: “As I was growing up, my dad would say, ‘Jenny’s going to be a teacher,’” Callaway remembers.
Therefore, it was especially meaningful to have her parents present at the school district’s awards ceremony when Callaway was announced as the district winner. “They were the ones who always encouraged me to go into education, and it was their example that pushed me to get into education,” she says. “So it was wonderful to be able to share it with them.”
After graduating, Callaway, who is from Walters, Okla., began teaching junior high at Lawton Public Schools.
Teaching secondary students had always been the plan for Callaway.
“I never thought about teaching elementary students,” she says. After thinking a moment, Callaway continues as to her reasons, “Secondary offers a greater ability to reach students. I think I gravitate toward them due to challenges they are going through at that age, with development and adolescence.
“I want to foster positive relationships with them to let them know they’re respected and cared for.”
After getting her feet wet, Callaway moved her focus to high school students, teaching first at Mounds and then Sapulpa Public Schools. During her time at Sapulpa, she also worked as a counselor. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in human relations with an emphasis in counseling.
Also during her time at Sapulpa, Callaway became acquainted with Great Expectations, a professional development program for educators. For the past 12 years, she has been involved in leading various professional development workshops for Great Expectations.
Callaway worked at Sapulpa schools for eight years before leaving to raise her son, but she kept teaching. She taught online with the University of Phoenix for five years.
She came to Jenks in 2009 to fill an opening at the Jenks Alternative Center.
“There was nine weeks left in the school year after spring break, so I came in and had to work with that spring fever mentality that students get, but I loved it,” she recounts.
Callaway joined the Alternative Center as a language arts teacher, with her desire being that students walk away with greater reading comprehension and communication skills but, as equally important, real world applications.
She cites an example, when her students study “Romeo and Juliet.”
“Most students start out thinking that this book does not apply to them,” she says. However, Callaway uses the book to discuss relationship topics including the healthy stages of attachment and how to form healthy relationships, and they start to realize “how similar Romeo is to them and their lives as teenagers today.” This often causes students to achieve what Callaway is hoping for all along, “to learn from these characters,” she says.
It wasn’t long after she came to the Alternative Center that Callaway began looking for new ways to expand her teaching efforts. She pitched to her school’s principal the idea of a class on human relationships.
The idea came from a class that Callaway had taught at the University of Phoenix, dealing with the biological and relational components of love.
“The sooner we expose kids to how to manage relationships of all kinds, the better quality of life they can have,” says Callaway.
Her principal, after some thought, gave the green light, and Healthy Lifestyles began in spring 2010. “The class is about learning how to have emotionally functional relationships,” she says.
Callaway was very interested to see what type of results would come from the class, so she spent the next four years compiling data from her students.
What she found was encouraging. The data results showed that males who took her class experienced increases in two types of love: selfless (agape) love and practical (pragma) love.
Callaway presented her findings at the 25th annual Oklahoma State University Research Symposium, where she won first place in the education division for outstanding and exemplary poster presentation.
“I want my students to walk away from my classes with enough information and confidence in their information to have the ability to use what they’ve learned and make proactive, functional choices,” she says.
During the 2014-15 school year, Callaway is teaching Healthy Lifestyles to ninth graders as a pilot program. Previously, the class was taught only to students starting in 10th grade.
Callaway has also taken her class to the community. This summer will be her third summer to teach Healthy Lifestyles at a local church.
In addition to all of this, Callaway is about to complete her doctorate from Oklahoma State University in educational psychology.
“I feel like I will always ask for more and strive to do better,” she says.
Jenks’ additional school site Teachers of the Year are Heather Reilly, middle school; Pamella Garvin, freshman academy; Liz Wright, high school; Shelby Cates, east elementary; Kelsey Bender, west intermediate; Tracy Robertson, west elementary; Rachel King, east intermediate; Lauren Lukeman, southeast elementary.