Skip to content

Sutherland advances in field

Sutherland advances in field
It’s the day before the TCAP four-day marathon of testing at Martin Elementary and Brittan Sutherland is in her room waiting for her fifth-gra-ders to come back from the library. Her 21 students have just finished reading “The Indian in the Cupboard” and they are eager to move on to the sequel.
“They think they’re the big guys,” chuckles Sutherland of the students who will graduate next year to Martin Middle School. “But I still read to them and they loved that book.”
Sutherland’s enthusiasm for her job is contagious and it’s not so hard to imagine why she is this year’s representative from northwest Tennessee “competing” with other teachers from around the state for the Tennessee Teacher of the Year in their class groupings..
She’s a Martin product all the way, growing up here, graduating from UT Martin and going on to get her masters in administration supervision.
“I try to tell them that all students can learn,” explains Sutherland who says she often pairs students together since “they learn well from each other.”
“They have to know from the start what my expectations are,” says Sutherland. One thing students in her class can expect is a lot of writing, at least 45 minutes to one hour a day of “writing workshop.” Sutherland is one of the founders of the creative writing summer camp at UT Martin for grades 3-8 as well as high school.
In the first six weeks she lets them write on whatever topic they choose keeping some writing prompts handy to spark the interest of those students who stare into space. Students then progress through various exercises, learning paragraph structure, word choice and other skills they need for the 35 minute TCAP narrative writing assessment they take in fifth grade. Last year she says,  Tennessee fifth graders had to write a story about unicorns.
Sutherland has been invited to score the state test two times and she says that has helped her teach the skills. By the time of the test, her fifth graders have even practiced scoring each others stories.
Recently her students used the pictures from the book, Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg ( author of the Polar Express) as inspiration for their own stories, imagining what was going on in the picture.
Writers are partnered with another writer at their same level to learn from and help each other.
To be good writers, Sutherland tells them they need to be good readers noting that the key to a good imagination is to read a lot.
Sutherland says she particularly likes this age group. “They are looking for independence, but they still love their friends. They are beginning to look for a place to belong as they face middle school.”
Fifth grade teachers teach all subjects but share the teaching of social studies and science with students switching to another teacher for one of those courses, just to get practice for middle school. There are eight fifth grade classes at the middle school. This year, Sutherland teaches science.
To “advance” to the next level as a Teacher of the Year, Sutherland will be filling out “a lot of paperwork,” giving her opinions on issues in education, teaching philosophies and other subjects.
That’s grown up talk for what she wants to accomplish with all of her students – teach them how to be the best readers and writers they can be.
wcp 4/14/11

Leave a Comment