Best Teacher, grades 9-12: Jim Smith, Snowy Peaks High School
At Snowy Peaks High School, Jim Smith wears many hats.
While most people know Smith as the principal of the school, he also works as an English and social skills teacher, and it is in those roles as a teacher that he finds his job to be most rewarding.
“When it clicks for a student — and they say, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m learning the real stuff that’s going to help me be most successful regardless of what I pursue’ — that’s when the magic happens, whenever it becomes real and relevant and the kids buy in,” he said.
Smith has been a teacher in Summit County for his entire career, starting as an English teacher at Summit High School.
“I believe that if you provide students with an extraordinary experience, they’re going to reward you with an extraordinary effort and an extraordinary attitude,” he said. “That’s proven true throughout my almost 20 years in this profession.”
For Smith, an “extraordinary experience” starts with building relationships. As an educator at Snowy Peaks, relationships are easy to form because of the school’s small class sizes.
“We are a school that defines ourselves as being a school for transformational education,” he said. “That’s what we do. So that gives us a little more leeway and a little more opportunity to develop really strong bonds and relationships with each student.”
Much of Smith’s job is convincing students that learning has value. He does this by connecting the material to everyday life.
“Students have to feel that what you’re doing has a great deal of purpose,” he said. “For me, especially in my English classes, we can pore over a piece of literature and appreciate it for a piece of art, or we can contextualize it and take a look at it and say, ‘That is an amazing piece of literature, but how do we apply it?’”
During the pandemic, Smith has focused his energy on continuing to provide the level of education and connection he has had with his students since before the pandemic began.
“This is a very challenging time; it’s a very challenging time for our students,” he said. “Before anything, our students have to walk in, and they have to feel safe, and then they have to feel like they belong to the community.”
Smith said a lot of his work right now is about giving students the confidence that they can succeed within the learning environment during this challenging time.
“They have to feel respected and that they are really capable of being successful in the model that we have built,” he said. “COVID or not, if you can focus on those things, kids are going to feel good about coming to school and feel like they’re learning.”
At the end of the day, Smith has one message for his students:
“I talk about walking out of class better than when we walked in,” he said. “Every day, we should be better people as a result of being in class or being in school.”
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