At the Top of Her Class

Dr. Melody Tucker was completely taken aback when, at a recent Citronelle High School assembly, state Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice stood up and announced she was the recipient of the coveted Milken Educator Award for Alabama.

“They told us the school was getting an award,” she says. “We thought it was because of our graduation rate, or the academies we have here at Citronelle High School, and that’s what everyone thought.”

Until her name was called. And there were cheers and applause from her students. And hugs from her coworkers.

She shouldn’t have been too surprised. Tucker, chair of the science department at Citronelle High, teaches regular and honors biology in addition to honors anatomy and physiology. She has worked there since earning her bachelor’s degree, and while getting a master’s degree and doctorate in instructional design from South.

As Tucker took classes, she began to evaluate her own teaching methods, the curriculum she created and how best to reach her students. As a result, Tucker says, students at Citronelle High have benefited from her South education.

“There’s a joy in seeing students realize their potential,” Tucker says. “If you give them the opportunity to realize what they really can do, when they have that 'aha' moment – ‘I did that’ – that’s the greatest reward I could have, and that’s one of the greatest rewards I get in teaching science. Students discover on their own.”

One of the first persons Tucker met after enrolling at South was Dr. Brenda Litchfield, Tucker’s major professor for her coursework.

At orientation, Litchfield had marching orders: The two would chart the classes Tucker would need to get her master’s degree in two years.

“Once we created it, she gave it to me and said, ‘Just follow it.’ And that’s exactly what I did,” says Tucker.

Litchfield says her graduate students usually have full-time jobs, some have families and all are aware of the financial obligations of going back to school. So she jokingly tells students that they shouldn’t wear out their welcome, and works with each to create a precise timeline to graduation.

“’We’re going to do this semester by semester,’” Litchfield says she tells students. “’These are the courses you need to take, and this is when you will graduate.’ I call them up. I hound them. I tell them that they belong to me – their souls belong to me until I get them out of here.”

Tucker says it was that kind of guidance and personal touch, and her love for instructional design, that kept her on track.

“The faculty are very personable, and that was a factor that helped me to decide to come to South and not only get my master’s but also my Ph.D.,” she says. “They saw me as an individual and as a person, not just another student. They knew me by my first name, what my occupation was, and on top of that, they wanted me to succeed.”

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