A Knox County educator was in the spotlight after earning a national award, a $50,000 prize and an appearance on a daytime talk show!
SAN DIEGO—Feb. 15, 2022— In recognition of inspirational teachers nationwide, Melody Hawkins has been named Teacher of the Year by the National University.
On Tuesday, Feb. 15, Hawkins, an assistant principal at Austin-East Magnet High School, was recognized as National University’s Teacher of the Year. Hawkins previously served as a teacher at Vine Middle Magnet School, before joining A-E as an administrator last fall.
“Melody Hawkins represents everything this award is about—honoring teachers who inspire others and have a profound influence in helping students grow socially and emotionally as well as academically,” said Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, chancellor of the San Diego-based National University System, a non-profit with a 50-year history of educating adult learners and underserved populations.
The surprise announcement was made on the nationally syndicated “Drew Barrymore Show.” In the televised interview, Hawkins talked about her passion for teaching, the lasting impact of a letter from a former student and the influence of educators in her own life – including her mother, who was also a teacher.
Hawkins and her students celebrated after watching the episode together in a classroom at Austin-East. At the celebration, Hawkins showed students the replica $50,000 check that she received, and highlighted a scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree which is part of the award.
Empowering students through science and SEL
Hawkins, whose mother is a teacher, studied to be a doctor but changed her plans to become an educator to make more of a difference in the lives of children. She has modeled her classes on methods used to teach scientists by encouraging her students to use science and conduct experiments supported in an environment that supports students’ voice, agency and assures that students own what they learn.
Hawkins seeks out one-of-a-kind opportunities for her students. She offers a free virtual summer camp that helps students entering middle school how to build a community and develop strong relationships with adults and each other. Her 8th-grade students at Vine Middle School in Knoxville won a competition to send research into outer space with NASA. To read more about the boot camp, click here.
Hawkins was made eligible for the national award in November 2021, when she was recognized as the Southeast Regional National University Teacher Award, along with four other regional finalists who each received a check for $10,000, to use at their discretion and a full-ride scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at National University. The additional regional winners for the national award were:
- Northeast Region: Olivia Leone, P.S. 161, Juan Ponce de Leon School in the Bronx, NY
- Southwest: Eric Hale, David G. Burnet Elementary School, Dallas
- Midwest: Dr. Maggie McHugh, La Crosse Polytechnic School in La Crosse, WI
- West: Reagan Duncan, Maryland Elementary School, Vista, CAT
Whatever students need to remove the barriers they face daily
Hawkins said that she tries to be whatever it is her students need to remove barriers they face. “Every day I have been a science educator, but I have also doubled as a mother, an aunt, and as a big sister. Every day I am that village that helps bring students to where they need to be for success.” Hawkins said she keeps with her a letter she was given over 2 years ago by a promising student who was later an innocent victim of gun violence in her school’s district.
“It was always high expectations with caring for our students and the example that she gave as being a teacher of color—a Black female science teacher—that is going to cause ripple effects for years to come,” noted Desirée Jones, principal of Vine Middle School where Hawkins taught for six years. “She is amazing, and she will change the world because of her teaching.”
“Her students have told me that they aspire to become science leaders and chemists and scientists because of her experience and time with them,” noted Tammi Campbell, principal of Austin-East High School.
Video of award presentation and accolades from peers and students here.
National University System created the award to recognize teachers around the country who exemplify what it means to fully engage students, build confidence, create inclusive learning environments, motivate students to succeed, and give students a voice in their classroom.
Congratulations, Ms. Melody Hawkins!
About The National University System
The National University System (NUS) is a network of accredited nonprofit education institutions serving a diverse population of pre-K to 12th-grade students and working professionals. NUS higher-education institutions serve more than 45,000 students through the National University, Northcentral University, and City University of Seattle. NUS education-focused initiatives include Workforce Education Solutions, Harmony SEL, Inspire Teaching & Learning, and Fundraising Academy Cause Selling Education. Learn more at nusystem.org.
About Inspire Teaching & Learning and Harmony SEL
The National University System is a leader in social and emotional learning, leading a national expansion of affiliate programs in the pre-K-12 sector. These programs include: Inspire Teaching & Learning, which offers research-based teaching methodologies and on-demand, self-guided modules that are accessible online and at no cost to help teachers create inspiring learning environments and encourage students to succeed, and Harmony SEL, a pre-K-6 research-based social and emotional learning program that cultivates strong peer relationships between all students. Harmony SEL has been recognized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as a quality program.