Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn recognized Saunders for the award, administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“Especially during a time when teachers feel unsupported and like an afterthought, it is certainly exciting to be awarded and validated for a lot of hard work,” Saunders said.
“I was excited to receive an e-mail that stated I had been selected as a finalist for the state of Tennessee,” she recalled. “This meant I would be recognized at the state level, but that I also will represent Tennessee in competing at the national level.
“I was invited, along with other finalists, to Nashville for an awards ceremony, where we were recognized in front of family, friends and people at the state level. The commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, spoke to us about the importance of our work, highlighting our impact on both our students and other educators.”
As an educator, Saunders reflected, “I am always looking for the ‘next steps’ in my career.
“A lot of teachers choose to go into administration, but that unfortunately takes some of the best teachers out of the classroom,” she added. “When a mentor of mine suggested that I go through the PAEMST process, I was excited for a challenge that would help me grow as an educator.
“The application process for the award was such a growth process. I had to get recommendations, provide a resume, video myself teaching and break down components of the video to demonstrate the quality of my teaching.
This also was accompanied “with a 25,000-character-written response to questions that allowed me to elaborate on my teaching and classroom, as well as with a portfolio of artifacts that provided further evidence of quality teaching,” Saunders said. “Doing all of this allowed me to truly reflect on my teaching and showed me areas that I could improve.”
Serving her fourth year at HVMS, Saunders has been an educator for 12 years, teaching both sixth- and seventh-grade science.
She taught her first three years at Northwest Middle School before a job move for her husband took her family to Richmond, Virginia, where she taught middle school science.
“Then another job move got us back to Knoxville, and I taught at Gresham Middle — and now HVMS,” Saunders said.