The 2019-20 school year begins next week and teachers all around Marshall County are busy preparing their classrooms. Diana Turner, first grade teacher at KDS DAR Elementary School, shared with us the challenges and some special memories through the years.

With a bachelor’s degree and master's degree from Jacksonville State University, Diana began her career in 1995 teaching pre-K and kindergarten. She has taught first grade for the last ten years at DAR. Awarded “Teacher of the Year” for the 2019 school year, Diana was surprised and humbled by the distinction.

“I work every day surrounded by teachers who are Teacher of the Year in my book,” she said.

Working side by side with these extraordinary coworkers, Diana and teachers at DAR prepare for the new school year by welcoming even more students in the classroom. Over the years, class sizes have continued to increase from an average of 16–19 students to now, around 20 – 22 students.

While instruction to students is most often addressed as a whole, with a larger class size Diana finds individualized instruction – where she meets students in small groups each day – is a great way to see if students grasp a certain skill.

“Each child comes with his/her own set of special needs…you just have to find enough of YOU as a teacher to go around…you just do the best you can to make it happen,” says Diana.

In 2006, Diana received the award for the Best Innovative New Program in the State of Alabama for Community Education for starting Mentor Marshall, a county-wide mentoring program for at-risk children. She also received recognition for another program, Learn and Serve, a service-learning program where funds are awarded to teachers who conduct service-learning projects with their students. Diana brings her creative sense of teaching to the classroom where she encourages students with hands on learning.

A class activity involving homemade applesauce a few years ago was a day where students learned all about Johnny Appleseed. “We made homemade applesauce and ate it together. Plus, I don't want my students to think I was a stick in the mud, so I hope they look back with fond memories of being in my classroom when they were little,” says Diana.

Diana teaches technology to the students by bringing technology to the classroom.

“I use iPads, Chrome Books and a new Interactive Board," she said. "We use the Accelerated Reader program daily to give students time to practice reading on a level that will help their growth in reading. Teaching a child how to read the English language is very difficult. It does not happen by accident, and this is just a tool we use to help them practice what we have taught. I also like to use Starfall.com to help my students practice math skills in a station."

The use of devices in the classroom enables students to get the experience of using the device not only for games but developing research skills so students actually know how technology can work for them. Students learn about the Internet and Apps and how these work within the devices.

Technology in the classroom is fun but greater rewards often come from one on one interaction with the students. Parents who volunteer in the classroom are not only a treat for the students, but teachers benefit too. From reading buddies to Easter egg and gingerbread houses, Diana has always welcomed parent interaction.

“Yes, I think anytime a teacher can gain support and spend time with parents, it's a win-win situation. We should be all in this together. Teachers truly want parents to know they are trying their best," Diana said. "Lots of people are reading buddies at our school. We always appreciate them coming to help our students. I also like to dye eggs at Easter, make gingerbread houses at Christmas and try to make those times special for my students. I like to ask parents to help out if they are able. We often make them rush through childhood and grow up too fast. This gives families time to just enjoy the little moments that they need to have life long memories together.”

The upcoming school year brings tremendous growth for KDS DAR as students and teachers from Claysville join DAR school. When asked about the challenges this growth will bring, Diana said she’s looking forward to the experience of welcoming new students and the lifelong friendships in the making.

“I just got finished reading 'A Vision Come True: Gem of Gunter Mountain' by June Gayle Troup," Diana said. "As I read, I realized how some of the smaller mountain schools came to KDS, and how they made it work out. Eventually, we all become a family with our own sets of memories that we share with new friends. We are all in this for the same reason, to continue what DAR is, a special place for teachers and students to learn and grow up together. Some of my best friends growing up were the students who came from Claysville.”

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