McIntosh High’s Emily Hodge named Fayette County Teacher of the Year

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Unconventional doesn’t make Emily Hodge uncomfortable, it is how she thrives. Hodge is in the unique position to work with every student and teacher at McIntosh High as a media specialist, and, on April 15 at the annual awards ceremony, she made history as the first media specialist to be named Fayette County Teacher of the Year.

“It is a media specialist’s dream to be counted among his or her faculty as a fellow teacher and collaborator,” Hodge said in her acceptance speech. “The Fayette County media specialists have helped me achieve that dream. They are true teacher-librarians.”

The vision of her media program is to improve the quality of life for each patron who walks through the doors, and she strives to accomplish this lofty goal by carefully listening to and then meeting each individual’s needs. She enjoys giving each patron a sense of ease and acceptance, even in just a brief encounter checking out a book or having a Chromebook repaired.

“Find a way to help every patron and fulfill every request as much as you possibly can. Look for ways to say, ‘Yes, I can help you with that.’ Even if you are not sure how, find out by calling on the expertise of others. You don’t have to do it all alone. When your patrons walk through the media center doors, what they are really seeking is a positive interaction with someone who cares about them. Be that person.”

She believes in having a positive intention behind every effort.

“I know that every little thing I do changes the world because our children are indeed the future,” she said. “Every smile, every kind word, every thoughtful gesture makes a difference.”

She thinks outside the box to stoke a love of reading in students. Among her initiatives is “Speed Dating with Books,” where students rotate from book to book to familiarize themselves with many books in a short period of time. Hodge decorates tables with red checkered tablecloths and vases of red carnations and plays soft instrumental music to set the atmosphere of a true speed dating event. She sets out books and graphic novels in a wide variety of genres, incorporating teacher requests that coincide with classroom lessons.

“At the high school level, many students no longer read for pleasure. When questioned, they reply that they have not read a book in a long time, and that they do not know what type of book they might be interested in reading,” she said. “I believe that atmosphere plays a vital role in making students feel welcome and excited about learning.”

At the end of the lesson, each student chooses at least one book to check out, and Hodge gives each of them a bookmark and Hershey’s Kisses to end their “dates.”

The lesson continues depending the collaboration with each English teacher. Some students produce mood boards reflecting the tone of their books, and others make book trailer videos.

“Anything other than a traditional book report is welcome by the teachers and me,” she said. “The ultimate outcome of this lesson is that students are introduced to reading again in a fun and relaxing way. When they return their books, they often check out more, and their love for reading is kindled again.”

In her five years at McIntosh, Hodge has become a vital part of her school community. She is also sponsor of her school’s student book club and a member of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team. PBIS’s goal is to improve school culture by fostering positive relationships between students and teachers.

“Fayette County Schools’ mission is to forge and equip a community of learners who confidently face challenges, embrace opportunities, and positively impact our world. These are carefully crafted words that are packed with meaning,” said Hodge.

“The word ‘community’ reminds us that we all need each other to learn and grow,” Hodge said. “The word ‘learners’ means that we are about more than grades. We are about establishing lifelong learning habits that will behoove the children when they are no longer under our wings. ‘Confidently facing challenges’ means that we are preparing students for real world problems, both personal and professional, because we know that life is tough but so are we. Amazing ‘opportunities’ are available to the students of Fayette County Schools, and we want students to embrace these opportunities and not let them pass by,” Hodge said.

“We want all students to see themselves the way we do — as capable and worthy — so that they do not shrink away but rather seek out every opportunity possible. And finally and probably most importantly, we want our students to ‘positively impact our world.’ To quote from the book of Corinthians, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. We want our students to take what they’ve learned and apply it for the greater good of us all.”

Hodge closed by challenging her fellow Teacher of the Year nominees to keep pushing for their students.

“I dedicate this award to all of you, who in what is possibly the most difficult year of teaching we have ever had, did the impossible and rose to the occasion to be sitting where you are today,” she said. “I congratulate each of you, and I call on us all to not grow weary in doing good because in due time we will reap the rewards of living in the world our students make.”

<b>McIntosh High’s Emily Hodge makes history as the first media specialist ever named Fayette County Teacher of the Year. Photo/Fayette County School System.</b>
McIntosh High’s Emily Hodge makes history as the first media specialist ever named Fayette County Teacher of the Year. Photo/Fayette County School System.