Cleveland Middle School sixth-grade teacher Cecily Williams is one of three finalists from East Tennessee, specifically the Southeast CORE region.
She described the recognition as both humbling and overwhelming.
“There are not even words to describe it. Every now and then I [will tell my husband], ‘I just can’t believe this is happening. It is just unreal,’” Williams said. “I go to work every day and do the best I can do for my students and I teach my heart out. I do it because it is my job and my passion and it is what I feel like I am called to do.”
Williams has worked as a sixth-grade teacher at CMS for 13 years. An additional three years were spent at a nearby school prior to her employment with Cleveland City Schools. She said she counts herself lucky to have spent the last 13 years at the same school teaching the same subjects in the same room.
Cleveland Middle Principal Mike Collier commented on the finalist announcement.
“Cecily Williams is an outstanding classroom teacher,” he said. “Cecily is also heavily involved in extracurricular activities and is a valuable resource for CMS.”
All nine finalists will have the choice to join the commissioner’s inaugural Teacher Advisory Council. The purpose of the council is to offer “insight, feedback and advice” from the teacher’s perspective. According to the TDOE design, Williams would represent teachers from the East Tennessee district alongside Heather Burkhard from the East Tennessee CORE region and Ashley Carter from the First Tennessee CORE region.
She said she is more interested in accurately representing the teachers in her district than presenting her own agenda.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman recently supported both the Teacher of the Year award and the advisory committee in a press release.
“Teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators that are helping their students grow,” he said. “We celebrate these finalists, but also the thousands of dedicated educators across the state.”
Williams agreed with Huffman’s sentiments. She stated Cleveland Middle has many good teachers. She said it was overwhelming to be selected even at the Building Level.
She said it meant a lot to her that fellow teachers see what she is trying to do each day.
“I try to stay positive. I try to greet the children at the door when they come into my room with either a handshake or a pat on the back or a fist bump or a high five,” Williams said. “Relationships with my students are so important. This past year, I had students who hugged me every day as soon as they walked into the building and wouldn’t leave without giving me a hug.”
She said she lets students know on a daily basis that she believes they can learn and succeed.
Director of Cleveland City Schools Martin Ringstaff said Williams is one of many “excellent” teachers putting students first.
“Ms. Williams is another great example of the quality of teacher we have in the city,” he said. “I am so proud of her and how she represents Cleveland City Schools. Ms. Williams is a dedicated teacher who understands that it is the student we are here to serve.”
All finalists will go through an interview process before the board in August in Nashville. The Grand Division winners and Teacher of the Year will be announced in the fall.