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Student Spotlight: Tiffany Smith

Student Spotlight: Tiffany Smith

Tiffany Smith is a University of Georgia alumni from the College of Education and is a current online student pursuing her Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia. Her passion and drive for teaching makes her the perfect guest writer to tell us how her traditional and online education at UGA has impacted her life. 

I am a 2010 graduate of the University of Georgia where I received my Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education (Pre-K through 2nd emphasis). After graduating, I began my teaching career at Fred Armon Toomer Elementary (FATE) in Atlanta where I taught first grade for six years and served on FATE’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports committee, Science Night committee, Math Day committee, leadership team, grade-level chair, culture and climate chairperson, and the superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Committee. In In 2015, I was awarded the Atlanta Families Award for Excellence in Education and chosen as FATE’s Teacher of the Year. Currently, I am a kindergarten through fifth grade literacy teacher, Purpose Built Schools Atlanta (PBSA) Summer Blast learning program site director, member of PBSA’s inaugural leadership class, Literacy Team member, Junior Beta Club sponsor and a new-teacher mentor through the CREATE Teacher Residency Program at Thomasville Heights Elementary. 

As stated by educator Rita Pierson, “Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.” When students have a champion at school, they develop a greater sense of self-worth and belief in their academic abilities. The fear of failure is removed, and students take more risks and set higher goals for themselves. In my classroom, my scholars know that I am their champion. I am that person who empathizes with their feelings and circumstances, will always believe in them, never give up on them, celebrate their victories with them, listen to them, and push them to their full potential. My classroom and curriculum are specifically designed to reflect my role as champion in my students’ lives.

Through my work at Thomasville Heights, I have grown in my appreciation of the need for teachers and other adults in a child’s life to be champions for reading for enjoyment and reading to learn. For our students, reading is the pathway to success, hope, and as Fredrick Douglas shared “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” I want to be the champion that quickly identifies areas of deficits in a student’s reading performance so that gaps can be closed before frustration and fear of failure sets in for students forever changing the trajectory of their life. I want to be the champion who understands how to challenge high-performing students to reach new heights with their reading. I want to be the champion that possess the skills to inspire children’s love of lifelong reading that propels them through high school, college, and careers of their dreams. I want to be the champion that shares my knowledge of reading instruction with others (teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents alike) so that all our students experience the success and enjoyment that reading affords.  

To be the best champion for my students, I know that I must seek out opportunities to grow in my own understanding and love of reading and reading instruction, thus the reason for pursuing this certificate. The Graduate Certification in Dyslexia program has given me the opportunity to learn from experts in the field of reading and language development on my own time. I appreciate that the program has allowed me to learn alongside PBSA colleagues and created, in a sense, a PBSA literacy team that is passionate about improving literacy practices within our schools. 

The program has led me to a clearer understanding of learners with dyslexia and other reading disabilities, strategies to assist all students with developing early reading skills, especially phonemic awareness, and relevant practice in developing structured literacy plans and implementing with students. As a result of this program, I can immediately put into practice the knowledge that I have gained to enhance my reading instruction for my students, close student learning gaps, develop students’ love of reading, and share my knowledge with other adults so that our students will grow in their ability to read for enjoyment and read to learn, resulting in a life of achievement, hope, and freedom for our students.

Learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia at UGA Online.