Two educators, one from Moore and one from Norman, have be awarded the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence.
Dr. Betsy Ballard, winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, teaches English, debate and competitive acting.
Teresa Potter teaches gifted education for third- through sixth-graders at Fisher Elementary School in Moore.
Potter, 22-year teaching veteran and National Board Certified teacher, enriches student learning through creative lesson plans that integrate social studies, math, science, literature, technology and the arts, according to a news release from Brenda Wheelock, director of communications and development for Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence.
Potter’s students read “George Washington’s Leadership Lessons” and create their own PowerPoint presentations on effective leadership. They design newsletters about historic locations along Route 66. They interview veterans to create slideshow presentations for Veteran’s Day, according to the release.
As the sponsor of the school’s leadership and service team, Potter leads students in service-learning projects, such as hosting a World Neighbors Hunger Banquet to help fight hunger and poverty and by collecting school supplies to send to an all-girls’ tent-school in Afghanistan.
“I want to give my students the tools to open their world and make a difference in the lives of others,” Potter said.
As one of the state’s leading early-American history teachers, Potter has impacted the lives of thousands of students and teachers. For more than 10 years, she has been a peer facilitator for Oklahoma teachers attending the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute in Virginia and was one of four Oklahoma A+ Fellows recently selected to participate in Team Washington, which provides teacher workshops on the life and legacy of George Washington.
For 11 years, Potter has been the coordinator of Colonial Day at the Capitol, an engaging, hands-on history event for fifth-graders. Attended by 500 students annually, the event has become a model that is being replicated in communities across the state.
Among her many honors, Potter received the National Council for Geographic Education’s Herff Jones Geography Award and the Oklahoma Humanities Council’s Humanities in Education Award.
“Teresa’s passion for what she does not only inspires students, but also teachers,” said nominator Beth Howard of Tulsa. “Her love for learning through integrated curriculum is contagious!”
Norman’s Ballard, who retires this spring after 36 years at Norman High School, said she has learned over time that the best gift teachers can give students is to “open the doors … and get out of the way as students step forward on their own journeys.”
To that end, Ballard has incorporated more student-led learning projects into her curricula, according Wheelock’s news release.
In her advanced Aegis English classes, juniors write original one-act plays, some of which are now directed and produced on stage by fellow students.
She advises debate students as they set up their own in-class mini-tournaments, encouraging them to critique each other and help others develop their best arguments and speaking styles. She facilitates student-led projects in acting classes that result in growth and independence in performance.
“Dr. Ballard created a classroom environment where the norm was wicked intelligence, where the drive to get better was instilled in very real, creative ways,” said Sara Doolittle, a former student of “Doc” Ballard, who now teaches the Norman High Aegis English class that Ballard developed. “As her students, we were pushed to our capacity, but loved that someone trusted us and valued our opinions.”
Many of Ballard’s former students have special keepsakes — handwritten notes of encouragement that she wrote to them on the eve of their first speech performances.
Ballard is a National Board Certified teacher who has won numerous national honors, including the National Forensic League’s Five Diamond Coach Award. Colleague Dana Hemphill said Ballard sets high expectations and inspires her students to reach them.
“She is the teacher that every student deserves,” she said. “And she is the colleague all of us wish to be.”