The Marana Unified School District Governing Board in late August recognized two teachers as Ambassadors for Excellence.
Each year, the district recognizes one or two teachers district-wide — which includes 17 schools and 815 educators — who stand apart from the others.
Taking leadership skills, dedication, motivation, inspiration and outstanding teaching abilities into consideration, the district picked Marana High School’s Janelle Edmonds and Tortolita Middle School’s Shela Little.
Both Edmonds and Little demonstrated they were perfect candidates for being the district’s teachers of the year through their dedication and determination in their fields, according to school officials.
Both teachers recently discussed what it took for them to get to where they are today, where they turn to for motivation and what teaching skills they have fine-tuned over the years.
Wearing her Marana Senior ’08 shirt, 10th-grade social studies teacher Janelle Edmonds recently talked to her honors class about how she would like to meet Maximilien Robespierre from the French Revolution.
But she would like to meet him twice.
Edmonds teaches her class using real-life stories, feelings and relatable material — including tidbits about her own life — to make what she is teaching more relevant to her students.
“If I don’t make it relevant to them,” Edmonds said, “in their life and how they are as a 15-year-old kid, they are not going to remember it, they are not going to seem interested.”
She described to her class how she is fascinated with the French Revolution and would love to meet Maximilien once before, and once after — just to see what was wrong with him.
If he was insane, or if the “incorruptible” became corrupted.
Now Edmonds has taken on the responsibilities of coaching the school’s academic decathlon team and coaching the varsity and junior varsity cheerleading teams.
Edmonds is the senior class sponsor and one of the leaders of the fine arts academy at the high school.
“I almost feel like it’s a calling in kind of a cheesy way, but you don’t do it for the recognition and you don’t do it for the pay, you do it for the kids,” Edmonds said in late-September. “And selfishly, I do it for me, too, because I love history and I get to teach it every day.”
Using her even-flow teaching style, it is no wonder she received this award, but what is a surprise is how long she has been teaching.
This is her fifth year on the job, and all five have been spent at Marana High School.
But those five years weren’t the only years she has spent with the district.
Edmonds and her mother both graduated from Marana High School.
And, if Edmonds has it her way, her children will graduate from Marana High.
Moving to Austin, Texas, shortly after graduating from high school in 1995, she worked there for six years before moving back to Tucson.
Once back in town, she finished a degree in social studies education. After graduating college, she got a job working at Marana High School.
Her decision to teach took a little thinking.
She knew she loved high school; she had amazing teachers in high school and she loved history.
“I just kind of put it all together and said, ‘OK what are my options?’… Best decision I ever made.”
Ever since she was a kid, Shela Little knew she wanted to be a teacher.
“I always enjoyed school and I enjoyed teachers,” Little said. “I always thought, kind of in the back of my mind, some day I would be a teacher.”
But achieving that goal wasn’t as simple.
Little got a psychology degree from Truman State University in Missouri.. She moved to Tucson and then started to work at the Arizona Children’s Home.
As a residential counselor at the Children’s Home, Little worked with severely emotionally disabled kids.
Though she said it was a challenge, she learned right away what worked and didn’t work.
After working at the Arizona Children’s Home, Little felt she needed a little more of a challenge.
She said she has always been the type of person who is asking herself “OK, what can I do now?”
So, Little went back to school and got her master’s degree in special education and rehabilitation from the University of Arizona.
She decided she was going to teach and work with kids with special needs.
Little has been teaching ever since.
Today, she works at Tortolita Middle School, where she teaches math to seventh- and eighth-graders.
She revolves her teaching style around the goal of having her students want to be in class.
She wants them to have fun and be excited about what they are learning, all the while having a positive relationship with her students.
“It’s important to me that I be nurturing but also firm,” Little said. “There has to be structure and limits and expectations. I will do anything I can to meet them half way but they also have to have responsibility for themselves.”
Little often volunteers at extra-curricular activities around the school to help cheer on her students.
Some of her students are currently involved with cross-country, so she visits the running meets to show her support.
But when she isn’t out in the desert cheering on the school’s runners, she is planning for every one of her students.
Each one of her 27 special needs students has an Individualized Education Plan, which is required by law.
Each student is taught differently from the one sitting next to him or her, because each has his or her own learning needs.
After 16 years on the job, Little has seen her students develop, change and grow.
“I have had students who have sent me wedding invitations, which really means a lot to me,” Little said.
She said the day-to-day life of a teacher is tough, but when you have a student come back to you and tell you made a change in their life, “then you remember, this is all worth it.”