Teachers at Battle High School cheered Friday when Doris Littrell and other members of Worley Street Roundtable surprised Mechelle Neuerburg with a Teachers of Hope and Promise award.
"This is a surprise," Neuerburg said as she walked up to accept the award during a morning ceremony for the high school's teachers.
"It is," Littrell said, smiling, "and it's a good one."
Neuerburg was the last of nine teachers who were surprised with the award and a $500 check from Teachers of Hope and Promise, a program within Worley Street Roundtable. The roundtable works with the 11 middle and high schools in Columbia Public Schools to recognize one teacher per school who has helped students succeed.
Students were encouraged to nominate teachers they believe have gone out of their way to help their students. Once nominations come in, roundtable board members review the recommendations and pick the winners.
Worley Street Roundtable started surprising teachers May 24 with the award and the money, which came from an anonymous donor. In addition to Neuerburg, this year's winners are:
- Gabe Nichols, Gentry Middle School
- Stephanie Tranmer, Lange Middle School
- Jeremiah Settles, Oakland Middle School
- Joe Friedrich, Smithton Middle School
- Madeline Knight, West Middle School
- Rachel Smith, Douglass High School
- Zach Rodeman, Hickman High School
- Newton Crosby, Rock Bridge High School
Across the district, 287 teachers were nominated. A few schools did not have nominees.
After giving Neuerburg the award, Brittany Fatoma, the executive director of Worley Street Roundtable, read student comments about her. "She is very casual and creates a great relationship with all of her students," Fatoma read. "It is very easy to talk to her about anything, and she will gladly help you with anything she can. She makes you feel welcome."
In an interview, Neuerburg said teaching virtually all year caused her to focus her approach to be more personal.
"It felt like I was really teaching, like, one-on-one each time," she said.
Neuerburg made herself available to help her students however she could by messaging, emails and phone calls. Teaching did not stop for her after 4 or 5 p.m., she said. "It's pretty much an all times of the day" job.
"I started every single class this semester asking what teachers call a no-pressure question," Neuerburg said. What were their opinions? What were their experiences? What did they think of something they had learned? For Neuerburg, how students answered helped her know them better and hang on to the personal interaction often sacrificed in virtual learning.
This was Neuerburg's third year teaching and her second at Battle, where she taught freshmen in the fall and sophomores in the spring. Being virtual all year meant it was challenging for her to pair a face with a name, so she's looking forward to seeing them in person next year.
"I wish I had my students here," she said, "so I could give them a hug."