Muscogee County School District teacher among national award winners

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 8, 2013 

Christy Grigsby, an English teacher at the Early College Academy of Columbus, has been named a 2013 High School Teacher of Excellence.

She is among the 16 award winners this year from the National Council of Teachers of English.

The NCTE plans to honor the award recipients during its annual convention Nov. 23 in Boston.

This award follows three other honors Grigsby has received this year:

• In February, the Georgia Council of Teachers of English gave her its top prize.

• In March, she was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Muscogee County School District Teacher of the Year award.

• In May, she was named the Sara Spano Top Teacher during the Ledger-Enquirer's Page One Awards, recognizing outstanding local high school students and teachers.

"I'm really humbled by all of this," Grigsby said Tuesday. "I am very much an overachiever. I just really try hard."

And it shows, said Susan Willard, the Early College dean.

"She always thinks of the students and their success first," Willard said. "She thinks of what she can do to get them to be successful. She is very innovative and creative."

For example, to help her students learn how to write essays, she sets up Grigsby's Grill, where the different parts of an essay are equated to the different parts of a sandwich. Then the class celebrates the reading of their essays by inviting parents to the school for a cookout.

Or if it's time to focus on vocabulary, Grigsby's students sing along with CDs pumping out rap lyrics that use SAT-level words.

"My kids say it's difficult for them to hide in my classroom," Grigsby said with a laugh.

She doesn't wait until quizzes or tests to assess her students. She does that every day she teaches new content, and if a student is struggling, she hands them a "lifesaver," a paper that outlines how they can catch up by doing extra work at home, such as links to websites with videos and worksheets.

"I don't want to leave any student behind," she said. "Once you've taken a test, it's like an autopsy report -- it's over -- so all along the way, I do checkups."

The medical analogy hints at the first career for Grigsby, 33. After she graduated from Central High School in Phenix City, she went right to Blue Cross Blue Shield for an internship and turned it into a full-time job as an auditor and trainer. She created engaging lessons for managers and proofread all of the company's correspondence dealing with Medicare.

"I was becoming an English teacher in the business world," she said.

While she worked at Blue Cross and pursued her bachelor's degree in professional writing at Columbus State University, one of her classes was a teaching course. She took a week of vacation in 2006 to shadow a teacher and find out whether she wanted to be one.

Lo and behold, that teacher was Willard, her future boss, who was teaching English at Kendrick High. Willard let Grigsby teach all of her classes that week.

"She allowed me complete freedom in the classroom," Grigsby said. "She saw something in me, and I fell in love with teaching."

Grigsby switched her major, graduated in December 2008, started teaching at Early College in January 2009 as a long-term substitute, then full-time in August 2009.

"The energy in a classroom is amazing," said Grigsby, whose husband, Eric, is an assistant principal at Blackmon Road Middle School. "The fact that no day is the same, or any class the same, is exciting. The fact that I have control over making the students excited about literature is endearing to me."

The NCTE winners are determined based on the applicants; contributions in the classroom and excellent practices. The selection panel reviews the resumes and letters of recommendation. Grigsby's recommendations were from Muscogee County School District administrators Kim Cason, Keith Seiffert and Ginger Starling and Columbus State professor Jim Brewbaker.

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