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franklin county times

Smith ‘ups her game’ to share English, drama knowledge at RMS

Patrice Smith
Patrice Smith

By Bernie Moussad for the FCT



“Passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic.” These are three words Dr. Karen Thorn, principal of Russellville Middle School, used to describe RMS’ Teacher of the Year, Patrice Smith.

Smith was born in Florence but said she “was a Golden Tiger from kindergarten all the way to graduation.” After that, she attended NW-SCC Phil Campbell on a vocal/dance performance scholarship. Smith then transferred to UNA, where she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in secondary education-English/language arts.

Before becoming a teacher, Smith had always wanted to be a nurse. Her own mother was a teacher, and Smith said noticed the tubs of work her mother would bring home for the students. It seemed rather daunting, which made her turn away from education – but not for long.

“After two years of college and doubting my original plans, I changed my major to education and never looked back,” Smith said. “I am proud to be a teacher’s kid and proud my own children will be able to say the same.”

During this past school year, she taught eighth grade English and drama. As for her teaching style, “I am 100 percent myself in the classroom.” She said she encourages her students to be themselves as well. By using their needs and her personality, she is able to focus lessons on the objectives. “Teacher literature would call that a hybrid style,” Smith said.

She said she believes her students would say she is fun but intense. Teachers try their best to make learning enjoyable, and Smith does this by joking around with her students; however, when it’s time to get down to business, she “takes their learning very seriously.”

Smith said she makes sure to stay in contact with the high school teachers in order to find out what exactly her students should already know when they enter high school. “I want them to be 100 percent ready.”

The previous school year has been tougher than most. Since Advanced Placement classes have been reintroduced into the high school, the teachers at the middle school have had to step it up and get their students prepared for those rigorous classes. “Mr. Grimes, Dr. Thorn and Mrs. Bendall challenged us to ‘up our game,’ so to speak. My students and I took that and tried to run with it,” Smith said. “In the English classroom, that meant tackling more rigorous curriculum and excelling with pre-AP literature and writing lessons.”

When it came to the performing arts, it meant Smith would work to produce “the most successful musical we have ever done at RMS: The Lion King Jr.”

Apparently Smith handled those challenges very well because she was awarded the Teacher of the Year award. She said colleague Coach Larry Gilmer had to help her out of her seat when her name was announced because she was in such a state of shock. Smith said, “I pride myself on being able to keep it together and do well under pressure, but I lost it. To think that the amazing teachers I work with thought so highly of me meant the world!”

Smith has already begun preparations for the next school year. “I always think I can teach a concept or complete a project better, so I’m spending part of my summer trying to revamp several things from this past year,” she said.

In the upcoming school year, Smith and her co-teacher, Emily Rush, will be taking on new responsibilities as fine arts teachers at Russellville High School. Smith wants it known that any attention she “gets for teaching is for (Rush) too. I couldn’t do what I do without her.”

To her fellow teachers, Smith said, “It is an honor to teach alongside you each day. Thank you for encouraging me and being my family. I couldn’t make it without you.” She also thanked RCS administrators for trusting her every day. “I know I am a lot to take in some days, but it means so much that (they) allow me to do the job I love and take risks in my classroom,” Smith said.

Smith also thanked her students for their work in the classroom. “I can’t wait to see what else they will accomplish,” Smith said. “The parents and families of my students also deserve thanks. They let me borrow their children every day and trust me with their education. That’s a huge deal to me. To say I feel blessed would be an understatement.”

Thorn said, “She brings the classroom to life through her vivacious personality and her love for her students. Her enthusiasm lights up her classroom each day, and this enthusiasm is contagious as her students enjoy each and every minute of learning. (She) has also demonstrated her willingness to be an example of a life-long learner as she continues to embrace learning opportunities and bring new ideas to her classroom and students.

“She serves as a mentor to many of our teachers and daily provides encouragement to her coworkers. She is always willing to go the extra mile for not only her students but parents and coworkers as well. Patrice’s commitment to excellence is evident in everything she does.”