Jeni James, who teaches gifted and talented students at Central Elementary School, has been named Putnam City schools' teacher of the year.
“I have the good fortune and pleasure of teaching with amazing teachers throughout the district who have inspired me to strive for excellence in all that I do. I'm incredibly honored to receive this award,” James said.
James is a graduate of Putnam City schools and is in her 24th year of teaching in the district. She said her career is exactly what she thought it would be years ago when she was a student.
“There was never any question in my mind that school would be my future. I was always a student who loved learning, loved creating and loved being part of a culture of knowledge. Things have not changed. I am still thirsty for knowledge and passionate about sharing what I know with those around me,” James said.
James' students are thirsty for knowledge as well, a thirst she quenches through the use of technology.
Her students explore the world of making video games and, in the process, learn logic, creative thinking and problem-solving skills while polishing their reading and math abilities. Students play video games in which they create superhero avatars and then undertake quests — code for completing classroom assignments — to increase their hero's powers and earn badges for themselves.
James uses the “flipped classroom” model of instruction in which she creates video tutorials for students to watch at home or during transition times at school. Class time can then be spent working closely with students and answering their questions to ensure they understand and can apply concepts.
James uses a Web-based program known as Edmodo that allows students to remain in contact with her even when they are at home. Students are able to review lessons, turn in assignments and receive help as they need it.
In 2010 she was named “Technology-Using Teacher of the Year” by the Oklahoma Technology Association.
“I value my students as people. I take interest in the books, games and music they enjoy to give us common experiences to share. It is important that my students know I value their opinions, their efforts and talents, and that they are, each and every one, amazing, intelligent, talented contributors to our world,” she said.
James offers training to her colleagues at Central Elementary and teachers from other schools, helping them learn to integrate technology into their lessons.
Last year she began working with small business owners and professionals, teaching presentation software, photo and video editing, Web design and other technology to increase productivity and communication.
Barbara Crump, principal at Central Elementary, said James is an inspiration to students and colleagues.
“She's awesome. Her expertise as a teacher and her willingness to take risks makes her a phenomenal role model. It's awe-inspiring to see how eager her students are to learn. She's just a true, true educator who cares for kids,” Crump said.
Steve Lindley is communications director for Putnam City Schools.