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James Clemens honors McRae as ‘Teacher of the Year’

MADISON – Leah McRae approaches teaching as student-driven, instead of teacher-driven. She is James Clemens High School’s “Teacher of the Year.”

“I’ve discovered that students learn best when they’re tasked with learning, instead of just receiving information from me as their teacher,” McRae said. “I actually facilitate learning instead of completely dominating the classroom.”

She has taught science for 22 years — first at Bob Jones High School, then at James Clemens where she now serves as science department chair.

“My school and school system have provided me with many opportunities to grow and lead in ways that I would never have imagined,” McRae said. “I’ll always be appreciative for their trust in my ideas and methods, both inside and outside the classroom.”

McRae earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Auburn University and a master’s degree from Alabama A&M University. She is certified with the National Board in Young Adult/Adolescent Science Education.

“I am not a strict disciplinarian today because I don’t have to be with my students. They all know I have high expectations and usually rise to those expectations,” she said. “Ultimately, they learn to self-govern and manage their own behaviors.”

“I don’t expect all students to earn ‘As,’ but I do expect all students to do their best … whatever that may be,” McRae said.

As a Master Teacher for Project Lead the Way, McRae travels in summer to American universities to teach “Medical Interventions” to teachers. She has sponsored Red Cross Club and Science National Honor Society and served on Faculty Senate. McRae teaches ACCESS online courses, also.

McRae identified a few influences during her career:

* Dr. Melanie Pickens, Linda Taylor and Barbara Turner — Veteran teachers who helped McRae.

* Dr. Neil Lamb, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology — “A great mentor (for) the newest discoveries in genetics and biotechnology.”

* Jennifer Hutchison, Biology Specialist for Alabama Science in Motion and HudsonAlpha — “She helped me and my students grow in science education.”

Her husband Jerry teaches fourth-graders at Julian Harris Elementary School in Decatur. Their children are Reilly and wife Roxanne of Memphis, Tenn.; Cody, wife Corie and granddaughter Aurora of Decatur; and daughter Jordan of Auburn.

At West Side Baptist Church of Eva, Leah is music director, and Jerry is education director. She is learning to play drums and guitar for a church band, along with videography for church recordings.

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