By Martie Thompson
Rachel Nunnally, Crown Point Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year for 2020 – 2021, is now certain she is finally in the correct profession. In college, she was torn between a career in advertising and one in education, but since she could only afford to do one internship and she scored one in the advertising world, she chose that for her degree. After graduation, she spent three years as an account executive with Jacksonville Magazine and although she enjoyed the work, she said she felt she wasn’t truly making a difference or an impact. One day she saw an interesting program, the Educator Preparation Institute at Florida State College at Jacksonville. She had the required bachelor’s degree, albeit in communications/advertising, so she decided to give it a try. She completed the six month online program and the rest is history; she’s been teaching within the Duval County Public School District ever since. Rachel is married to husband Cody. They share a daughter, Keaton, and a one-year-old lab/hound mix named Harvey.
Q: How did you come to teach at Crown Point Elementary?
A: Well, the interesting thing is when I was young and my family moved to Jacksonville from Alabama, I attended Crown Point as a student. I’m sure that’s why I feel so connected to the school. I also attended Mandarin Middle School and Mandarin High School before earning my degree at the University of North Florida. After I became a teacher, my first job was with the hospital and homebound program with Duval County Schools. It was a wonderful experience and I taught all kinds of exceptionalities across the city. I went to hospitals and medical day care facilities, and throughout it all, I was inspired by the families who were so dedicated to education despite their child’s illness. In 2011, I moved over to Oak Hill Elementary where I taught fifth grade varying exceptionalities and fourth grade reading. I was there for four years and loved my time there. I had a great principal who just poured resources into me and I learned so much. The last four years, I’ve been at Crown Point. I’ve taught third and fourth grade varying exceptionalities and now teach fourth and fifth grade language arts; I have a partner teacher who teaches math and science.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
A: Right now it’s all the COVID stuff. But generally speaking, writing for students of this age can be challenging. Starting in fourth grade, students must take the FSA standards based writing test, where they are required to read multiple sources, synthesize information, plan, and respond to a prompt with a four to five paragraph response. It’s difficult, but by the end of the year, the students can do it. I looped up with most of my fourth grade students to fifth grade and it’s great to see they retained a lot of knowledge, despite missing out on traditional learning at the end of last year [due to the COVID shut down].
Q: What is your favorite part about being a teacher?
A: Definitely building relationships with kids and their families. I like things like seeing a video from a student’s dance recital for instance. I also like getting even shy students to come out of their shell and trust me.
Q: How did you find out that you had been selected as the Teacher of the Year for Crown Point?
A: Members of our administration came to my room with flowers to let me know. It was a very big and nice surprise. Now I’m up for the Duval County Teacher of the Year. I had to submit all my materials for that recently and they will announce the semifinalists in November. I was also honored to be named the Teacher of the Year when I worked at Oak Hill for the 2012 – 2013 school year.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?
A: Honestly, still doing the same thing — a classroom teacher. I have no interest in administration. I love being with the kids and building relationships. I always tell college kids who consider a career in teaching to not listen to the negative. I love teaching so much.
Photo courtesy Mary Eyler