Hardin Valley Elementary’s Brooke Swaggerty is a seasoned veteran at eighteen years in the classroom but she’s still finding ways to grow and keep things fresh! Ms. Swaggerty is a great one for sure!
Adam: Say your name for me.
Brooke: Brooke Swag-Ger-Tee, 1st Grade teacher at Hardin Valley.
Adam: Where were you born?
Brooke: In Knoxville, Tennessee at UT hospital
Adam: Nice! Two of my three were born there.
Adam: What was your elementary school mascot?
Brooke: I moved around in elementary school. My family moved to Alabama from age 4 until 3rd grade. Then we moved back. I went to Ritta Elementary here in Knoxville and they are the Rangers, but I didn’t go there the whole time. Just for 4th and 5th grade.
Adam: What college did you go to?
Brooke: I went to Carson Newman for undergrad. Go Eagles! I went to UT for my masters, and then I went to LMU for my EDS, Educational Specialists License.
Adam: What were your majors for those various degrees?
Brooke: At Carson Newman it was Early Childhood Education and then at UT, it was Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and then my EDS is Educational Leadership.
Adam: Do you have aspirations of going into administration?
Brooke: I have the degree and the skill set, but I’m happy in the classroom. I decided that until I’m unhappy in the classroom, feel burned out, or need a change, then I’m just staying right here. Administration is a very stressful job. I’ve seen it be very stressful and I value my time outside of school.
Adam: How do you keep yourself refreshed as a teacher?
Broke: I think that’s one of the things I like the best about teaching. It’s different every single day, even 18 years in because the kids are different. You could be teaching the same lesson that you’ve taught 13 times, but it’s going to go a little bit differently every single time because the kids are different. Also talking with your coworkers and planning with your coworkers and forming relationships there, that just makes it a better place to be.
Adam: Good answer!
Adam: How many years have you taught now?
Brooke: This is my 18th year.
Adam: How many years have you been Hardin Valley Elementary?
Brooke: 18 years.
Brooke: Yes. Every year that I’ve taught, I’ve been here. I graduated in the spring and starting teaching here in the fall, which was one year after the school opened.
Adam: Perfect. So is there anyone else at the school that can say as much?
Brooke: There are just a few other people, but not many. I would have to think really hard, but I think maybe two.
Adam: Have you taught first grade all 18 years?
Brooke: No, I started in kindergarten. I taught kindergarten for 8 years and around that time is when I got my EDS and wanted to try a different grade for experience. I went to 3rd grade for one year and begged to come back to the little ones. I came back to 1st grade and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
Adam: What was the difference between the grades?
Brooke: 3rd grade specifically is harder. The academics are harder and the kids aren’t as excited about being at school. In 1st grade and kindergarten everyone loves everything. You can say, “Hey look guys, the sky is purple.” They’d say “Of course Ms Swaggerty, it’s purple. We love it!” In 3rd grade they’re like, “It’s not purple, it’s blue.” Then they roll their eyes at you. I’m more about everyone being happy and everything is beautiful and we all love school. I think it’s a big difference between primary and intermediate. You either love primary or you don’t. I do, I love primarily so that’s where I want to stay.
Adam: What clubs do you sponsor?
Brooke: I help with cross country. It’s the 3rd through 5th grade. They went to the state this year and I unfortunately had to sit that out with my broken foot. I help with them every year. I am more crowd control than coach. I’ve also implemented an exercise class two days a week for our staff after school. On Wednesdays we have a total body class and on Thursdays we have a Zumba class for the staff members. We took a survey and learned it was just hard for people to get to the gym and it was hard to fit exercising in. We go to work, spend so much time here and then go home feeling tired. Once you sit down, you don’t get back up.
Adam: That’s an excellent idea!
Brooke: We have it here at 3:30 and the staff just has to walk down the hall, do it and then you can come back to your room, finish working if you need to and you’re done for the day. You’ve gotten all your things that you need to go.
Adam: What’s the participation like for you guys?
Brooke: It’s a fairly new thing. We’ve had great participation on Wednesdays with the total body. It’s pretty hard. We’ve had 8 to 10 people come. Zumba is a little bit different because it’s a completely different kind of exercise and it’s the day after the really, really hard one. So people are sore and that one’s been a little bit less attended. However, they’re both just starting out. It’s maybe been a month at this point.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Brooke: I didn’t think I wanted to teach and then I started working at a daycare in high school and early college years. I just loved the way the kids can respond to adults and how much they can grow and learn just by something you say or do in the smallest way possible. You can say one little thing and a 5 or 6 year old takes it and runs with it. That’s another difference for 3rd grade too. To say one little thing with our 3rd graders and they’re like, “Okay. Whatever.” I started working at a daycare and found that I really enjoyed being with the younger kids and seeing them grow and learn. I just fell in love with the kids and kept going with it.
Adam: What did you think you were going to do?
Brooke: I’m pretty authoritative as a person. So you can read into that as you will. *laughter*. I thought I was going to take over that daycare and be the boss. I always thought, “I can do this. I know how to run this. I can deal with the parents. I can deal with the administrative tasks.” Then I noticed that the role took me out of where I really wanted to be. I wanted to be with the children. That’s one of the reasons that I have my degree in Administration, but I’m not pursuing it because it takes you out of the role with the kids. We still get to see them, but you don’t get to see that everyday relational interaction that you do in the classroom.
Adam: That all makes sense.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Brooke: In my dream world, I would be a broadway sensation. I would sing and dance my feelings on stage and everyone would know what to do. I’d be the star, or I’d be a backup singer. Completely different than teaching, but that’s my dream world.
Adam: What if you had to find a new job?
Brooke: That’s a hard question. I don’t know. I don’t want to do anything else.
Adam: I don’t think you’ll need to!
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Brooke: I had lots of favorites. I’m very big into high school chorus. I went to Central High where Beckye Thomas was the person who was very involved in that and I learned a lot from her. In elementary school I had a teacher in 5th grade, Miss Brock from Ritta Elementary. I loved her. She poured her heart and soul into our classroom and you could tell that. Being the new student in her class, she really helped me feel comfortable and deal with that as well.
Adam: For those who might not know her firsthand, what’s so special about Beckye Thomas? [I taught with Beckye at Central High for 4 years.]
Brooke: She pushes people to be better than they ever expected they could be. Sometimes in nontraditional ways as well. She pushed people outside of their comfort zone.
Adam: And around her, there’s just such a culture of excellence.
Brooke: Yeah. She demands more than the bare minimum, which is what high school students like to put in.
Adam: Which educator have you learned the most from?
Brooke: There’s a teacher here at Hardin Valley that is retired now, but her name is Ms. Mae. We are good friends now, but when I first started working at Hardin Valley, I knew she was the teacher I wanted to be. She’s so patient and loving and kind and her kids respected her. Her kids respected her and parents respected her. She is so good with the kids. She’s coming here next week to help me make shirts with the kids. She taught me a lot and I say all the time, as an 18 year old veteran of this school, I want to be Ms. Mae when I grow up. She’s just has this way about her. I’ve learned so much from her and got to team teach with her for two years which was incredible. I would do it again in a heartbeat. She is a great friend and mentor and I’m very blessed to have her.
Adam: Sounds like it!
Adam: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Brooke: I will say that two things have happened in my career that have just happened in the last two years. My first classes were so young in early years of teaching. They’re just now getting to be adults. Of those first kindergarten kids, I’ve had lots of them come back and be ACTS students, which is the program for the high school that comes over to help during the school day. I love having them come back. It’s awesome. One in particular came back last year, was headed to college this year, didn’t know what she was really going to do and she sent me a letter this summer. She told me that because of this class and because of what had happened, she is now in education. She is now in school to be a special ed teacher in Chattanooga. Then this year, the middle school opened next door. I walked over for a community gathering with all three schools and we got to open the middle school together. I looked over and one of my former kindergarten students is a middle school teacher there at the school. It’s her first year. It made me feel ancient, but it was amazing. She said some really sweet things and made a really sweet post on social media about how the reason that she’s there and the reason that she’s a teacher is because of the way her school experience started out, which was in my kindergarten class. It feels full circle. There are some not so fun stories too, but those are the good success stories that make me feel like maybe I’m making a difference and doing something that matters.
Adam: I think will be interesting when you start having the children of your formal students. Brooke: That’s happened to a lot of my colleagues, but because my kids were so young when they started, they’re not quite to that point. If I taught fifth grade, they would have come back through. But since they were so young, it’s different.
Adam: What do you consider a successful student to be?
Brooke: Someone who tries and is open and isn’t afraid to make mistakes, because everyone makes them. It’s someone that will learn from them and someone that is just open to the experiences that school brings.
Adam: I will say that is the most common thing that teachers talk about. No one’s ever said, “To get an A in my class.”
Brooke: Yes, to try and understand that this is a process. It’s a process of how we learn and grow.
Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?
Brooke: For me, inside my classroom is what counts. It’s what is happening within these four walls, right here is what drives me. There are things that I dislike about the rules that are put on some things. I’m testing 6 year olds in a certain way, as you know. I want the people who make the rules and the laws to come and sit in here for a day and do the things they’re expecting teachers to do. That’s what I would like to see because then they would have a better perspective, a better understanding.
Adam: When you say coming here for a day, would you actually like them to try to teach or to be a student in here, or a little bit of both.
Brooke: A little bit of both. I think to get the real perspective, they would have to be the teacher, possibly without the real teacher in the room.
Adam: What is something that you could use in your classroom?
Brooke: Something that I could use in my classroom is mostly supplies. I’m very lucky to teach here. I know that some schools have it way worse off. Mostly everything that I could use I could get on Amazon. Glue and Amazon cards or something like that. It’s mostly glue, scissors, pencils, and crayons that we run out of. The pencils go dull and break all the time. We don’t know how to use those appropriately at six. *laugher*. We have a great PTO here and we have a great administration that is understanding. Anything that we really, really need, they’ll find a way.
Adam: Are there any more expensive items that’d be a real treat to have?
Brooke: A new active board. We’re getting so that we’re kind of a generation behind on them. We’re happy to have them and they’re great, but our boards are outdated for the technology. I’m not a very technology based person, but that’s the center of the room. We use it most of the day. When it fails or goes off, it’s a bad day.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Brooke: Well, is singing a hobby?
Brooke: I like to sing.
Brooke: Maybe when I was younger, but I don’t really do that very much anymore. I sing at my church on the praise team and I love it. We sing in my classroom all the time. My coworkers make fun of me sometimes because we sing in here ALL the time and they’re sometimes really silly. Sometimes it’s a song that I just made up right then.
Adam: Anything else that you love to do?
Brooke: I also like to read and to travel. I like to go to new places. I haven’t been to a lot of new places, but I like it. I like the idea of it. I teach school, so it’s a little restrictive.
Adam: Do you like to travel locally or internationally?
Brooke: I would love both. And I have only traveled internationally in North America. I would love to take an adventure overseas and that’s on my bucket list of things to do. Eventually. Somewhere that speaks English first, so probably the UK.
Adam: What is a good way for a student or a parent to spoil you?
Brooke: Well we can’t leave for food, ever. So when people bring food to us and it’s not a sandwich we had to make in our house, that’s a great! Food is a great way to spoil any teacher, in my opinion. There’s limits to that when you eat at 10:25am. *laughter*. But lunch is always a good thing or gift cards.
Adam: Where’s your favorite restaurant?
Brooke: I love Aubrey’s. I also like the Copper Cellar a lot too.
Adam: Have you tried a Corner 16?
Brooke: Yes I have. And I like that too. It’s always covered up with people, which is hard. They have a really good meat and cheese tray.
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