Cedar Grove Middle’s Nadirah Kelker wins new educator of the year award

Cedar Grove Middle’s Nadirah Kelker wins new educator of the year awardCedar Grove Middle School sixth grade math teacher Nadirah Kelker is one of three scholarship winners selected by the National Association for Alternative Certification’s (NAAC) New Educator of the Year Awards Committee.

Kelker is the only teacher from Georgia to receive the award. She received a monetary award from NAAC, as well as complimentary registration valued at $540, and a free one-year NAAC membership.

“It felt really outstanding,” Kelker said. “Honestly, I was shocked when I learned that I won, but I still felt like my [Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy] program really prepared me for this. I was really thankful that I won.”

DeKalb County School District’s Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy (TAPP) program is designed to provide a non-traditional preparation route for teaching candidates. Eligible candidates teach full-time and are supervised by a candidate support team. Candidates have up to three years to complete academy requirements.

Kelker completed TAPP’s alternative certification program in June 2019, and was identified as a TAPP ambassador—a person selected by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission to provide information to interested candidates about TAPP.

Kelker began her teaching career with DCSD four years ago. She received her bachelor’s degree in math from the University of West Florida and master’s degree in higher education from the University of Louisville. When she moved to Georgia, she tried to find a job in higher education but was unsuccessful.

“So, I decided to apply to primary education jobs and to see if I could work my way up to post-secondary,” she said.

She applied at Cedar Grove Middle School and was hired as a sixth grade math teacher. She said she immediately fell in love with her sixth grade students.

“I just enjoy interacting with this age group, and especially with children, in general, because they are impressionable,” Kelker said. “I like that I’m able to build relationships with them and be a mentor. I really feel like I’ve had a good impact on them.”

At the time, Kelker was teaching under a provisional certificate. She said she didn’t want to get another master’s degree, so she decided to research an alternative program. Her mentor told her about the TAPP program and encouraged her to apply. She applied and was accepted into the program.

Through the program, Kelker said gained many skills that helped her become a better teacher. One of those skills was classroom management.

“I saw a big difference in my classroom management and me relating to the children and building relationships with them,” Kelker said.

She said TAPP also helped her improved in planning and preparation, and assessment.

“Through TAPP, it taught me different ways to assess my students. It showed me that the assessment process doesn’t stop when the students take a test,” Kelker said. “It continues on through my feedback—me giving them feedback for those next steps, especially in math. It’s definitely beneficial for students to get effective feedback, and TAPP really taught me that.”

To apply for the NAAC scholarship award, Kelker provided a written statement explaining her reasons for selecting teaching as a profession and for selecting an alternative route to certification, as well as letter of recommendations from her principal and TAPP program director. Kelker also submitted a four-minute video of her teaching.

In the congratulatory letter sent to Kelker from the New Educator of the Year Awards Committee, the committee said it had a difficult time selecting the winners and Kelker was among the “very best” of the largest pool of nominees in the awards’ history.

“We were truly impressed with your video and your enthusiasm and love of teaching and learning was clearly evident,” the committee said.

When asked how she plans to continue to grow as an educator, Kelker said she wants to differentiate her lessons more in a culturally appropriate aspect.

“I feel like I can get deeper into that, especially because majority of my students are African American,” she said. “I want them to know that there are people that look like us that are mathematicians and scientists.”

For more information about DCSD’s TAPP program, email Dr. Michelle Thompson at michelle_o_thompson@dekalbschoolsga.org.

Contributed by Carla Parker