Winners of the News-Star/Patriot Auto Group "Amazing Teachers" program have been named and will have extra funds to spend in their classroom this year.

Winners of the News-Star/Patriot Auto Group "Amazing Teachers" program have been named and will have extra funds to spend in their classroom this year.

Judges selected four finalists and one overall winner of the Amazing Teacher awards. The teachers were selected based on nominations from members of the teacher’s community. All of the nominations can be seen in the Amazing Teachers/Back to School section in Sunday's News-Star.

The overall winner, who will receive $500, is Debbie Flowers from Meeker Elementary School.

Five “Amazing Teachers” will receive money to help them throughout the school year.

The finalists, who will receive $250, include Becki Powell at Meeker High School, Brandi Abbott at Shawnee Middle School, Rachel Schooler at Grove Schools and Brandy Bond at Shawnee High School.

Below is a Q&A with the teachers.

Brandi Abbott, special education teacher at Shawnee Middle School

News-Star (NS): Why did you become a teacher?

Brandi Abbott (BA): I wanted to be a special education teacher because I had a cousin who had multiple disabilities and at that time, special education wasn’t at the level that it is now, so my aunt had to go with him to classes to make sure he got an education because he really wanted to learn. I thought I just don’t want a parent to have to do that — I want students to be able to be independent of their parents at school. I thought, I need to be a special education teacher to make sure that happens.

NS: What’s it like getting to know your students?

BA: As far as academics, it’s able to see them reach goals and how excited they are and how proud of themselves they are and they know that you’re proud. But then you also get to have a relationship with the kids. You get to learn so much about these kids and so much of it will break your heart. You learn why certain kids have struggle and you get to understand, you understand why they’re acting out in your classroom, why learning to write that paragraph isn’t even the least of their worries — it’s what happened at home. ... You know, they trust you after a while because they see this is an adult that cares about me and they love me, and I make sure that my students know that I do love them. It’s like, am I going to have to walk home without that coat, and it’s 30 degrees. It’s so nice when you can provide that, you know a coat for them or food for the weekend because you know that they’re going to be hungry. Being a teacher, while you’re providing an education, you’re also making sure that they have their basic needs met. It’s so much, it’s so much that unless you’re actually in the classroom with them it’s just hard to describe.

NS: How important is it to meet those basic needs first?

BA: It’s everything. We expect them to come and sit and learn, but their basic needs aren’t met? They’re hungry, they don’t want to learn. Confidence. Especially in middle school. Confidence, no I’m not carrying my stuff in a plastic bag, they have a new backpack on their back. It’s like, look at me. A new pair of pants — they may wear those pants every single day, but they have a new pair of pants. They know that somebody is there for me, somebody has my back. … Basic needs have to be met before any learning can happen.

NS: What do you plan to do with your $250 and what does that money mean for the school year?

BA: I often give supplies to students that aren’t even mine. I’ll have kids that I don’t even know come in to get supplies, so of course any supplies that my kids need, basic paper and pencil for their elective classes if they need something so they don’t have to go to this class with nothing. It allows me to do that, plus it allows me to, in situations, if I see a kid that their backpack is ripped out or they brought their stuff in a plastic bag, I can go and buy them a new backpack. I can buy them food, just enough to get them by for the weekend. I’ve seen kids..we have a food closet here. I’ve seen kids ration it out in their lockers because they know how much they’ll need to get through the weekend. They’ll leave the rest of it. If I needed to buy them pants that fit, if they needed a coat whenever it’s cold. It allows me to buy them things that they need in order to be ready to be successful at school. I’m thrilled.

Brandy Bond, drama and debate teacher at Shawnee High School

News-Star (NS): Why did you become a teacher?

Brandy Bond (BB): My mom is a teacher, my sister is a teacher and my dad is a teacher. My mom and my dad have retired from teaching. My dad taught at a vocational school and my sister presently teaches at Dale — she’s the library person and she also teaches some Spanish and drama. I just..that was not going to be me. I was just going to do my own thing. I have ADHD, dyslexia, so teaching felt really ridiculous to me because I was the kid that..I did ok in school, I graduated second in my class, but it’s because my mother was over me all the time. I struggled. And if the school I went to had a special education program, I probably would have been in it. I never saw myself as being smart enough to teach, but then as I got into college my second time, I realized that not only was I smart enough, I was exceptionally bright and I could write and I could do things I told myself I couldn’t do when I was younger. I kind of was a late bloomer, but it was good.

NS: So what’s it like being able to show your students that their disabilities don’t define them?

BB: I’m glad now because a large percentage of my students have those issues. Dyslexia and ADHD are really prevalent in the school districts across the United States, so to have a teacher that says not only (is) your dyslexia and ADHD not an issue, but on top of that say not only that but you can succeed highly. As much in some peoples’ minds succession is going to be lawyer, doctor or something like that, for me it’s getting out of bed in the morning, putting my feet on the ground and loving where I go. I make enough money to pay the bills and I’m going to go and give to my kids, and I’m going to go home at the end of the day, I’m going to feel like I was part of something bigger than myself.

NS: What’s it like getting to know your students?

BB: Drama is a different kind of study track. It’s one that makes you vulnerable, and I think kids figure out after they make themselves vulnerable in the beginning — drama one, drama two — they start to see vulnerability in the right place leads to good art. They open up and the connections that we have, they’re being self-aware, they’re making discoveries about themselves, and I’m the adult in the room when it happens, so we’re instantly connected by that shared experience. It’s just the kind of relationships I have with my kids, they’re just so incredibly precious to me. I feel very maternal toward all my kids.

NS: What do you plan to do with your $250 and what does that money mean for the school year?

BB: I have two textbooks for four sections of class. One section is debate, so the other three sections have one textbook. The textbook is great and I have plenty to go around, so we’re blessed in that way, but there’s a thing in education… called the Bloom’s Taxonomy. The bottom is recall and then up at the top is evaluation, creation, presentation — that sort of thing. Theatre tends to be up at the top anyway, which is great for kids, but it’s hard to get some of those ideas up to that higher level without textbooks. For me, scripts is what I need because I can talk about it from the textbook, but if I give them a script and we have an entire story arc that we can design for, we can do costumes, sound, we can do lighting, we can do model sets — I have some model sets in there that kids made. This year I’m super excited that we’ve gotten a lot of supplies because last year it was cardboard and paper. That was all we could do, all we could afford because we’re a really high-poverty school district. If you tell a kid, ‘I need you to get a hot glue gun, an exacto knife, foam board,’ all this stuff, they’ll say, ‘I don’t know when my mom gets paid next, I don’t know if that’s going to be possible.’ What $250 means to any teacher is more opportunity for their kids. More chance to build concrete ideas from abstract thought. More ways to transition kids from kind of knowing something to fully understanding. It’s an amazing thing what just a little bit can do.

Rachel Schooler, pre-K teacher at Grove School

News-Star (NS): Why did you become a teacher?

Rachel Schooler (RS): I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was little. I went to OBU and majored in elementary and early-childhood education. I taught at North Rock Creek for a couple years and I’ve been at Grove ever since.

NS: What’s it like getting to know your students?

RS: We look forward to our lists every year and I cannot wait to get mine this year. It’s something that we really look forward to. We have a ‘Meet the Teacher’ night and it’s always so fun to have the kids come in and get to meet their families. They’ll come in and we’ll start rolling right from day one.

NS: What’s the best part of teaching these kids?

RS: There’s always something everyday that makes it worthwhile. When a kid figures something out or a kid that has maybe some problems with discipline has a great day or they figure out something that we’re learning, or those ‘aha!’ moments are wonderful.

NS: What do you plan to do with your $250 and what does that money mean for the school year?

RS: It’s huge as a teacher. We don’t get a lot of funding, as you know, in Oklahoma, so anytime that we are granted any kind of money, it’s amazing. I am going to purchase some things that we can play with outside. Some hands-on activities, a couple of water tables and a sand table, just to have some hands-on, fine motor activities.

Becki Powell, science teacher at Meeker High School

News-Star (NS): Why did you become a teacher?

Becki Powell (BP): I knew that I wanted to teach and I knew that I had some different options as far as teaching because I really enjoyed school when I was in school, and I liked history and I liked language arts and English and science and all that. When I was going back to school, I had been out of school for a few years, when I went back, I knew that on the other side of that journey I was going to need a job, so out of all the things I enjoyed I decided to focus on science because that’s always a shortage area, so I knew that as long as I went into that area, I would be always in demand somewhere.

NS: What’s it like getting to know your students?

BP: Like I said, I’ve had from over my years that I’ve taught, I’ve had sixth grade all the way to senior, so there’s such a huge difference, so you can see how their personalities and needs change from sixth grade, middle school, to seniors, leaving high school. Their personalities, their needs, their interests, they change so much in that time. I think that’s the neatest thing about teaching, and I like to have those moments when they finally, you’ve been talking about something for a week or two and they finally actually get to do the thing that pulls it all together, and you get to hear the ‘aha’ moments when they finally get it. It all comes together and you’re playing different pieces of the puzzle for however long you’re playing that concept. That’s why I teach.

NS: What’s it like when students get that ‘aha’ moment?

BP: That moment is the reason that I put up with all the other moments in between. With the, ‘I forgot my homework,’ or ‘I didn’t do my homework,’ or ‘I was out too late,’ or all of those other things and frustrations that come in between, in that moment, they don’t matter because that one kid, it was audible and visible that they got it and it was important to them in that moment and they’re not going to forget it. This last year, I had one that struggled in a lot of areas, but by the end of the year, he was building things that we had talked about in class and bringing them in as examples for everyone else. Those are the moments when you see not only did you get it, but you enjoyed it. My hope is that in those aha moments, I can inspire a little bit of love for the why. It’s not all about the what and the how, but the why of, why does the Earth revolve around the sun and why are those things. When you can get them in those times. I like to inspire the why.

NS: What do you plan to do with your $250 and what does that money mean for the school year?

BP: That means a lot. Especially teaching science, there’s always things that we run out of, lab supplies that are consumable, we use a lot of thing that you just run out of all the time. I’m constantly buying things almost weekly, buying new things that I decided yesterday that I need to do a lab today, so I have to go buy something because there’s just not enough time to get lab supplies through the school process, so just having that kind of buffer, it helps. I’m pretty sure I’ve already spent at least ($250) on my classroom and school’s not even started yet.

Debbie Flowers, pre-k teacher at Meeker Elementary School

News-Star (NS): Why did you become a teacher?

Debbie Flowers (DF): When my husband (and I) first got married, I stayed home with the children and I loved that, I loved the early childhood end of it. When he suffered a stroke, he encouraged me to be a public school teacher. I owned my own preschool for about eight years and then I became a public school teacher and I just loved it, so I just stayed with it. … I started out in North Rock Creek in a pre-k program, one of the pilot programs, and then I moved to Meeker because that’s where my children went to school. I was just so excited to get the opportunity to teach pre-k again because I thought it was a really good come back to pre-k again.

NS: What’s it like getting to know your students?

DF: It’s so fun because they come in and… that’s one reason I love early childhood. They come in and they’re just these little sponges that take up everything that you give to them. It’s just so exciting to see their different personalities. Some of them are kind of shy at first and you have to bring that out in them. Some of them have lots of energy and you have to kind of tame that down a little bit, but it’s just so fun to see how they interact and help them build that character development that I feel is very important for them to have, along with the education.

NS: What was it like when you found out you were nominated for the award and then when you won it?

DF: That was so exciting for her to even call and think about nominating me. … I thought that’s such a big honor to just be nominated for any award in teaching because teaching is something that you as you develop your skills you just feel like that it’s just something you want to do for a very long time. You don’t want to change careers when you’re a teacher. The only thing you might want to do, if you truly love teaching, the only thing you might want to do is become a principal so you can impact more lives. … I wasn’t really sure it was true and then I thought, oh that is so exciting. It’s just such an honor to represent the teachers and for the teaching profession to be honored in such a way, so I was excited, it’s always exciting.

NS: What do you plan to do with your $250 and what does that money mean for the school year?

DF: It just makes such a difference. There’s so many things that as you get to know the different groups, so I’ll probably wait until after I see what kind of children I have and what they’re interested in. You can always buy activities or books to continue to instill that knowledge in them. I’m excited. Whenever you get any money in education, you’re excited to spend it. As soon as I find out what my children are like, we will definitely decided what we’re going to spend it on. Probably books and probably learning activities. … It’s just such an honor to be nominated and to win this. I really appreciate it and I know the children will. They’ll be so excited to see what they get new, so I’ll tell them about it and make sure that they have an impact in what we buy.