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Choosing Growth Over Grades

When we think about teachers who are passionate about students success, Ms. Shunta Spencer is one of the first that come to mind. Ms. Spencer, an AP Lang teacher and OnRamps Rhetoric Instructor, is known by her peers for creating an environment that inspires collaboration between  teachers and students to make great things happen. We’re proud to recognize Shunta at NMSI’s Teacher of the Month for going the extra mile to ensure her students are prepared for college and beyond.

What’s your teaching philosophy? - My teaching philosophy is simple: encourage growth over grades. Often students who are in advanced academics are grade chasers, which is understandable as we live in a competitive society. However, I don't want them to let chasing the grade keep them from growing in their thinking. It is the responsibility of a teacher to create instances where students can focus on developing skills rather than simply passing tests. They have to be allowed to make mistakes, encouraged to ask for help and loved through the process. 

What gets you up in the morning? - Knowing that my students expect to see me just like I expect to see them. 

What’s your definition of success? - Success is making progress from one attempt to the next. It may not be the final desired outcome, but as long as there's progress, it's success. 

What do you want your students to gain from their time in your classroom? - I want my students to leave my class feeling that they have been empowered to challenge the opinions of others, to express their own opinions, to engage in thoughtful conversations, to deconstruct "hard" texts, to discuss anything and everything and to do it in a way that make others believe them.

I want them to know that their voices matter, and with the right strategies they can get anybody to listen to them. I want to find value in the course not just the grade they achieve at the end.  In my room, we grow in our struggle to be better. It is my hope is that when students leave my class they understand that it's okay to struggle because growth happens during a struggle, but not trying leaves them stagnant, and that is when we have a problem. 

What has NMSI equipped you with/how was NMSI helped you grow as a teacher/How has NMSI shaped your classroom or teaching experience? - NMSI's trainings and materials have been my saving grace. NMSI strategies are great because they break passages, prompts and lessons down to the smallest parts in order to make material accessible to all students. As a teacher of students on varying levels, I can pick and choose what I need from the lessons to help meet the needs of all my students. As I continue to branch out on my own, I use the NMSI lessons as guides in creating my own materials.  I take those same strategies and use them with new texts to make sure that my students reach the depth and complexity needed to help them achieve success in my class and on the AP exam. 

What they said:

Dr. Creslond Fannin, District Director, Manor Independent School District
 “As the Executive Director of Advanced Academics, I oversaw the AP and IB Department at the district level.  I quickly recognized I had a bright shining star leading the charge to ensure our student were welcome prepared beyond Lancaster ISD.  That star is Shunta Spencer!”

“Her overall love for learning is contagious.  She brings the class to life and relates it to every day situations. She expects her students to use their high level critical thinking skills to be successful.  With her passion, they can’t help but to want to learn more.”

Will McDowell, NMSI Program Manager
"She believes in her students and her students believe in her. As a Program Manager, I travel the country speaking to administrators and teachers about the importance of the teacher who is in front of our Advanced Placement students in our classes each day. I often share what I call the Shunta Spencer Effect. When I first met with her school, it was believed that the students would not come on Saturdays for study sessions. I asked the principal if he had the influential people to get students there, he simply stated, 'I know we do. We have Shunta Spencer.' 

"Ms. Spencer then took it on her own to become the Site Coordinator for the school as well as continuing to teach her classes of AP Language. During the 2017-18 Academic Year, Ms. Spencer had over 90% of her students sign-up for Saturday Study Sessions and over 80% of them made it to the Saturday Study Sessions."

Congratulations to Shunta and Lancaster High School for inspiring the next generation of problem-solvers!
Know a great teacher who deserves recognition? Email marketing@nms.org to tell us why you think they’d be a great NMSI Teacher of the Month.