By Leila Beem Núñez, Editor For Mary Gilbert, school counselor at College Street Elementary School, it takes a village to raise and educate a child. Soon, in addition to the village she is already a part of in Coffee County, she will be a part of a village of educators from around the state.
This is because Gilbert has been selected as one of 50 educators in Tennessee to be a part of the Tennessee Educator Fellowship, a yearlong program that aims to equip educators to advocate for their students and profession while continuing to teach. She was selected out of 600 applicants for the program, which in addition to teachers accepts school counselors and librarians. Gilbert, who brings nearly 35 years of educational experience to the table, said she was surprised about having been selected in the first round at all. More humbling still was finding out she passed yet another round in Nashville to receive the distinction. “Being in the trenches, I feel like I bring experience, but to have a place where teachers are going to be heard, supported, elevated – that’s wonderful,” Gilbert said. “Tennessee’s school system has been recognized as one of the best in the nation, but we really want to look at, are our students prepared for college? Are they ready for post-secondary?” As part of the fellowship, Gilbert will join a group of educators who have traditionally appeared at public speaking engagements, invited policymakers into their classrooms written about their education experience in state and national publications and served on state-level policy committees. In addition to being the head of school counseling at College Street, Gilbert is also a Teacher Advancement Program mentor, working closely with teachers in the classroom. She was also previously school counselor at Robert E. Lee Elementary in Tullahoma for 20 years. She also taught music in the elementary schools for 10 years, prior to which she taught music and academics in the Knox County school system. Gilbert said that though she has a lot of experience, the learning doesn’t stop here. She feels the fellowship will allow her to do what’s best for students, namely in preparing them for higher education and the workforce by collaborating with a diverse group of educators she will now be a part of. “For me to be effective, I need to know what’s out there, so I need to be better equipped, sharpen my skills, learn as much as I can,” Gilbert said. Gilbert, though thankful for the recognition, stressed that she does not accept the fellowship on her own. She added that her administration’s support was essential in her selection. “We can’t look at Manchester City like we are here alone. It’s our children, all our children. That means Coffee County, Manchester City, Tullahoma City – we need to work together to make the biggest difference. We can’t do it alone,” Gilbert said.