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Kristen Steele is “Teacher of the Year” at James Clemens High School. CONTRIBUTED

Steele honored as top teacher at James Clemens

MADISON – Kristen Steele, who teaches introductory through advanced placement chemistry, is Teacher of the Year at James Clemens High School.

Starting in 2010, Steele taught middle-school science at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School. She liked the smaller school and project-based learning. She also realized the importance of mentor teachers.

She then transitioned to Buckhorn High School to teach an array of science courses. “Experienced mentor teachers supported my professional development as a budding high-school teacher. They provided a strong foundation yet allowed flexibility for new instructional strategies,” Steele said.

In 2014, she relocated to James Clemens and “has been blessed to focus my attentions solely on my favorite subject, chemistry,” Steele said. She sponsors Chemistry Olympiad and Chemistry Club.

“Maya Angelou once said, ‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give.’ Those words encapsulate my sentiments about teaching and the great blessing and responsibility it brings those committed to the profession,” Steele said. “Teaching is a lifelong commitment to serve others with love, humility and generosity.”

Steele compared the teaching profession to medicine. Both require “regular study of best practices from latest research … Effective teachers are reflective practitioners who bravely take educational risks and reconsider relevance of instructional approaches (for) new students with different contexts.” Most importantly, colleagues remind Stelle sometimes students just need to know their teacher is present, listening and cares.

“Perhaps what makes me an outstanding teacher is my humble acknowledgement of my own need for perpetual growth … and collaboration among my colleagues. I remain committed to professional organizations, like American Association of Chemistry Teachers, AMSTI/Alabama Science in Motion, A+ College Ready and AP chemistry teacher social networks,” Steele said.

Currently, Steele is pursuing National Board certification and preparing to serve as a consultant with A+ College Ready.

“Students respect my elation when a student learns to light a burner for the first time, calm reserve when glassware gets broken in the lab and exuberance when a student properly applies a new unit conversion,” she said.

Steele recalls one student failing chemistry class due to poor study choices. He was discouraged but wanted an engineering career. She urged him to retake the course. He successfully passed chemistry and physics. “Students need teachers who can gently steward their strengths and kindly remind them of improvement,” she said.

In addition, she allots time for students to collaborate with peers, share ideas and offer feedback. Students then become more reflective learners. Steele provides platforms, like Google docs, that promote more productive conversations during labs.

She welcomes student initiative. One student voluntarily created a macro to aggregate data “far beyond my understanding. If they can design it and explain how it works, I want to celebrate that,” she said.

At the University of Alabama, Steele graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry (minor in Spanish) in 2009 and a master’s degree in secondary education – general science in 2010.

Her husband Anthony C. Steele II is an engineer and project manager. Their children are Alyssa, 5, and Timothy, 3.

A Huntsville native, Kristen plays piano and alto saxophone and enjoys informal and group dancing. She likes photography, listening to podcasts and audiobooks and reading a good book in a naturally lit room with a cup of hot coffee or tea.

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