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Kristen Steele at James Clemens ranks in ‘Final Four’ for Alabama Teacher of the Year

MADISON – Like the NCAA’s “Sweet 16” basketball finalists, the Alabama State Department of Education has its own “Sweet 16” and “Final Four” for “Alabama Teacher of the Year.” One Madison teacher is among those top four.

“Congratulations to Kristen F. Steele, chemistry teacher at James Clemens, for qualifying as District 8 ‘Secondary Teacher of the Year.’ Ms. Steele is now a (Final Four) Finalist for the 2022-2023 ‘Alabama Teacher of the Year’ award,” Dr. Ed Nichols, Superintendent of Madison City Schools, said.

“The 16 emerged from a group of more than 150 top educators under consideration for this award and (has been) pared down to the final Top Four,” Nichols said. The Final Four includes two secondary teachers and two from elementary schools. Officials will reveal the winners at Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts on May 11 at 6 p.m.

Selecting the top teachers involved various “educational stakeholders, including current and former administrators, teachers and community leaders in various capacities within our District 8 region and throughout the state,” Steele said.

“This entire experience has been completely unexpected, surprising and humbling. It has taught me to embrace the adventures of each day,” Steele said. “Each step in this process has come with increased responsibility. However, I am thankful for the outpouring of support from my colleagues and administrators.”

Steele is focusing on this unique opportunity “to advocate for amazing colleagues I have in Madison City Schools and around the state. I pray that this distinction also honors my family — especially educators past and present, my mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins, as well as my former teachers and mentor teachers,” Steele said.

Starting in 2010, Steele taught middle-school science at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School. She then transitioned to Buckhorn High School to teach science courses.

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

“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 Certified Teacher status 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.

In addition, she allots time for students to collaborate with peers. Steele provides platforms, like Google docs, that promote more productive conversations during labs.

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.

Steele’s students are proud of her nomination. “My fourth block class was with me when we heard the news on the intercom. They were elated and responded with cheers and shouts of encouragement,” she said.

Other students, past and present, have congratulated her in the halls. “Teachers are sometimes the worst at receiving praise. We’re very attuned to our imperfections and shortcomings, but I’m learning to embrace the moment and allow others to support me along this journey,” Steele 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 works an engineer and a manager. Their daughter Alyssa is six years old and will attend first grade at Columbia Elementary School this fall. Their son Timothy will soon celebrate his fifth birthday and will be a kindergartner at Columbia.

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