University of Montevallo alum Jeff Norris Ed.S. ‘12 was recently named Teacher of the Year by the Alabama State Department of Education. Norris, originally from Jasper, teaches sixth-grade math at Oak Mountain Middle School in Birmingham and has worked in education for 18 years.
Each year, the Alabama Teacher of the Year program recognizes excellence in the teaching profession by identifying outstanding Alabama classroom teachers at local, district and state levels. Local schools vote for their teachers of the year, who then become candidates for teachers of the year for their school system. Sixteen finalists — an elementary and secondary teacher from the eight Alabama State Board of Education districts — are then chosen by district level committees. On the state level, the “Sweet 16” are narrowed down to four and after a round of personal interviews with the state committee, Teacher of the Year is selected. Norris was named the winner at a ceremony honoring the Sweet 16 at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts on May 10.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Norris said. “I feel like it’s almost selfish to be honored for doing something that you love. I take great joy each day, and to be recognized for that is kind of the icing on the cake.”
As Teacher of the Year, Norris will serve as an ambassador for the teaching profession by conducting workshops for teachers and speaking to civic and professional organizations, P-12 schools, colleges and universities.
“It is not an award for the top teacher in the state,” Norris said. “I am an ambassador and a representative of the educators in the state. I take that very seriously, and I want to make every minute count of it and just spread the positive things about our field around the state. That’s my goal this year.”
Prior to his position at Oak Mountain Middle School, Norris taught third grade at Chelsea Park Elementary School, fifth grade at Chelsea Intermediate School and gifted education at Chelsea Middle School, Chelsea Intermediate School and Shelby Elementary School. He was an administrative assistant at Montevallo Elementary School, assistant principal at Inverness Elementary School and principal at Helena Elementary School. He has worked and lived in almost all the zones that Shelby County Schools serves.
Norris earned both an educational specialist degree in teacher leadership and a master’s degree in instructional leadership from UM in 2012. Both programs were a hybrid format, which allowed Norris to work full-time and take care of his family while he earned his degrees.
“Our graduate education programs at Montevallo aim to engage professionals in reflective practice to help them become the educator they aspire to be,” said Dr. Jennifer Alexiou-Ray, director of graduate programs at UM, “whether in the classroom providing direct services to students or as school/district leaders.”
Dr. Courtney C. Bentley, who currently serves as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, oversaw the program during Norris’ time at UM.
“We are extremely proud of Mr. Norris and honored that he chose the University of Montevallo for advanced studies in educator preparation and leadership,” Bentley said. “He is exceedingly caring and dedicated to his students. We commend him on his service and commitment to the profession. We know that he will continue to positively impact the lives of his students, their families and the community in which he serves.”
Norris also holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from The University of Alabama and a master’s degree in gifted education from the University of South Alabama. As a UM student , he received the Outstanding Graduate in Teacher Leadership Award from the College of Education and Human Development.
“I think there’s a place for everyone at Montevallo,” Norris said. “It is a place where everybody feels comfortable. Having a local university that’s as prestigious as UM but also has that warm, inviting, casual feeling is so important. That’s what I want people to think about me — that I’m professional and knowledgeable, but I’m also very approachable and casual in my tone.”
Norris and his wife Sarah — who also teaches in Shelby County — have been married for 18 years and have two children, Maggie and Miller.