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Tennessee teacher gets welcome surprise on National Teacher Day

Fourth-grade teacher Andy Roach hugs Rutherford County student Maria Kime after she reads her award-winning essay about why she appreciates him.
Fourth-grade teacher Andy Roach hugs Rutherford County student Maria Kime after she reads her award-winning essay about why she appreciates him.
G. Tatter

Fourth-grade teacher Andy Roach thought it a bit strange Tuesday when student Maria Kime’s mother showed up and appeared to be playing hooky from her teaching job at a nearby high school to have lunch with her daughter at McFadden School of Excellence in Murfreesboro.

“I was wondering why she had off of school today,” he said.

He also thought it odd when Zaire Kime, who teaches Spanish at Oakland High School, asked if she could pull Maria away from recess for about 20 minutes, shortly before Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen was scheduled to address McFadden teachers and students.

Roach’s bewilderment turned to shock, though, when the new education commissioner revealed she wasn’t visiting McFadden as part of her statewide tour of school districts, but to hear Maria read an essay about why she appreciates Roach as her teacher. McQueen also presented the student and her teacher with checks for $700 each.

“I knew that you were touring the state, so I was just excited to meet you,” Roach told McQueen after the assembly, during which McFadden students chanted his name. “I had no idea that this would be about Maria or myself.”

Maria’s essay was judged tops in her age division in the Department of Education’s second annual “Why I’m Thankful for My Teacher” contest. About 2,000 students statewide submitted essays, and one winner was selected from grades K-3, 4-6 and 6-12. The youngest students submitted videos instead of writing essays.

In conjunction with National Teacher Appreciation Week, McQueen is traveling across the state to surprise essay winners and their teachers. The contest is sponsored by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the Business Round Table and the Ayers Foundation.

In her essay, Maria complimented Roach’s style and his ability to create an atmosphere for learning. “Our room looks like it could be in a magazine,” she wrote.

Because of her teacher, she continued, Maria now enjoys math. “We do scavenger hunts outside, make ice cream (measuring is much more fun when ice cream is part of it!), relay races, math darts, putt putt math, and so much more,” she wrote.

Roach has been a teacher for five years, all in Rutherford County. Working with great teachers and “exceptional students” are among the rewards of teaching, Roach said. Asked about the challenges, McFadden was more deliberate in his answer. “I guess just always being innovative and always thinking of ways to teach outside the box and to constantly think them engaged and interested,” he said. “If they are bored, they’re not going to pay attention, so going that extra mile and figuring out a way to relate to them is . . . where I work the most.”

Roach said he likely will spend his check on classroom supplies. For her part, Maria thinks she might use the money toward an education at Michigan State University, where she would like to play soccer, although she has until 2023 to decide.

You can read Maria’s essay in full here.

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