Teacher Spotlight: Joy Rhodes

Teacher Spotlight: Joy Rhodes

Never one to miss a teachable moment, Mrs. Joy Rhodes invited the Hardin Valley Middle School Newspaper Club to join us for her Teacher Spotlight interview. I loved seeing the sense of care and mutual respect she has already established with the students over these seven short months.


Adam: Where were you born?

Joy: Charleston, South Carolina.


Adam: How did you end up in Knoxville?

Joy: That is a great question. When my husband suggested that we move here, I called the Department of Education in Nashville and I was so taken aback by the accent. I was like, oh, okay, we can’t do this, we can’t move anymore. But my husband was in the Navy and we’ve been a little bit of everywhere, so we just landed here. We were in Nashville for a couple of years for shore duty and we really liked it. When he retired, we decided to move to Knoxville because it was halfway between his parents and my parents.

Adam: So was he a submariner or nuclear power?

Joy: He’s in nuclear power.

Adam: Yeah. I’m a former Naval officer.

Joy: Yes, yes, they are a very special breed. He is working at Watts Bar now and TVA.

Adam: What was your high/middle/elementary school mascot?

Joy: The falcons! We were the Ferndale Falcons. I went to a private school, K through 12. So it was a very different experience. I had 24 kids in my graduating class. It was very, very small

Adam: Where did you go to college?

Joy: I went to the College of Charleston.

Adam: What did you major in?

Joy: I was an English major.

Adam: How many years have you taught now?

Joy: This is year 17 for me.

Adam: So this is obviously your first year at Hardin valley. Where’d you come from?

Joy: Prior to this I was at Northwest for nine years and I loved it. I loved, loved, loved Northwest. Hardin Valley Middle School was a great opportunity and one of my friends suggested that I apply here. I wasn’t really interested in leaving because I did love my community, but I think God just sort of opened the door for me and so I was like, you don’t ever block a blessing. I am really excited to be here. When He opens the door and you’re able to walk through faith into that door, He really makes things happen for you and that has happened with me…just different things have happened where I know this is the right decision. It’s been a really good year.


Adam: Are you able to share some of those things?

Joy: Dr. Corey Smith has been one of the most amazing leaders. He’s very, very similar to somebody that was a principal of mine before that I really grew under. [Turns to students] ‘I know you guys think that you’re my entire job, but for me to be happy in a teaching position, I have to be able to learn and grow too.’


It’s really cool that Corey encourages us to do that. He is the kind of leader that it is a joy to work for.  He is very bright, authentic and hard working. It’s been very refreshing to just have him let us be who we are as teachers and he trusts and supports us in doing what’s best for our students.  And then he encourages us along the way to do things like Newspaper and all of the other student organizations that teachers, parents and students have created this year.

Adam: That is a blessing.

Adam: What subjects are you teaching this year?

Joy: Seventh grade language arts. I’ve got two honors classes and then two regular classes.

Adam: What clubs do you sponsor or sports do you coach?

Joy: I have never coached a sport. I am the sponsor for Newspaper. Mrs. Magliocca [Newspaper Club co-sponsor] and I got together in the summer; we’d never met. In the Navy, we moved around: we were in Rhode Island, we were in Florida, we were in Nashville and then we went to Virginia a couple times. Everywhere that God has placed me, it’s been really important to me that I have Christian friends to hold me up and women, especially women that I need to bond with. So with Mrs. Magliocca, it was like, we knew each other our whole lives and it was really, really neat from the very beginning. There was no struggle, there was no jealousy or anything. It was really, really cool.

Adam: Did you do Newspaper over at Northwest?

Joy: No, I don’t think any other middle school has a newspaper. I taught honors and regular over there as well. I was on the PBIS and leadership team and was Team Leader over at Northwest.  The people who did the broadcast [at Northwest] were the tech teachers. Mrs. Magliocca and I kind of snuck that one under the door because that was a big dream of ours. We said, ‘well, since we’re doing this newspaper, you know, you need somebody to do announcements too. So since we’ve got these kids, why don’t you just let us do this?’ And they said okay. We ran with it before they could think about what we’re doing and accepting. The other thing too is that the kids that we have been sent to work on this newspaper are unbelievable. Unbelievable! Their talents are just beyond what we could’ve expected. We have kids who are so artistic and so creative and very tech savvy. That was a huge thing for us too because we were building this from the ground up and we really wanted them to take ownership of it. So to have them sort of dig in has been great.


Adam: Why did you get into teaching?

Joy: Let’s see if I can make this concise. When I was 13 years old, I felt moved to be a servant, a people servant. I just knew that that’s why God put me on the Earth, to be a servant and so I knew that I was going to be a teacher. My dad was a principal of a high school for over twenty years and a teacher and coach before that. Just the way that he would come home and talk about his kids at school and the changes the teachers and coaches were making in their lives was inspirations.  Some of his students were actually pallbearers at his funeral; it’s just in the family and it just means a whole lot to us that there’s a bond. Kids that I have taught that have graduated and have gone onto college and graduated from college, it’s a really big deal for us. So I think it’s just important to our family and it just made sense to do it.


Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?

Joy: That is a great question. I was asked that the other day at a conference and I really wasn’t sure what to answer, but I think as I have no singing talent at all…I can’t carry a tune in a bag, but I would love, love, love to be an entertainer. I would love to do that because it looks really fun and exciting. But I, I can’t sing at all. That’s terrible.


Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?

Joy: My favorite teacher was a seventh grade teacher. Her name is Gloria Hart and she was this huge lady who always wore dresses and she was so personable and she loved grammar and I’ll remember this as long as I live…we have these whiteboards now, but it used to be that we had chalkboards in the classroom. She would erase the board and then if you were naughty, if you did something you weren’t supposed to, she would take the eraser and hurl it at you and you would get chalk all over your clothes. There’s this one kid, his name’s Rhett Harris, he’s a Marine now. He was always just so disrespectful and talking and she threw the at him. I mean, he must have had that on him every day. I called him the other day and I was like, gosh, do you remember that? And he goes, no, I’ve forgotten all about it. How can you forget that! I talk about you every year to my kids and let them know it could be worse, it could be worse! But, yeah, she was great. She was just very personable and I think when a teacher invests in who kids are as people, I think that makes a huge difference for them and that definitely did for me

Adam: Absolutely!

Adam: Which educator, a teacher or a principal, perhaps someone when you were getting your degree, have you learned the most from?

Joy: I would say two people. When I was in college, I was a Spanish minor because I love languages. I had to get up in front of people and speak in Spanish and it was really intimidating. I didn’t want to do it at all. I was fluent, but it was just scary. I mean, I get up there and to speak in English was one thing. I had a professor named Mutindi Ndunda from Africa. She said, ‘Joy, you are the expert when you get in the room. No one else knows what, you know, you’re the expert.’ She just was very nurturing and I learned a whole lot from her. She gave me confidence.


The other person is Karen Loy; she was principal at Northwest for a very long time and now she’s a special ed supervisor for Knox County. She’s a psychologist and she just knew people and she was one of those women who you were friends with but you were also colleagues and she just wanted to surround herself with people that complimented her, that had different talents than she had and then she would train them and she would send them off to get training and things like that. That really fed me for a long time and people like that have been in my life often and I just really enjoy that kind of thing. That’s why I was really thrilled that to be with Principal Smith and [Assistant Principal] Melissa Glover because they have fostered that too. Emerson said that you can’t just be a farmer. You have to be a man on a farm.


What that means is that you can’t just be a student and you can’t be a robot, you can’t just be a teacher teaching, you have to be who you are in the job that you have. And so that really meant a lot to me. Any job that I take, I have to be myself. I can’t just do what you tell me to do, you know, I have to have some autonomy and some license to teach the way I teach.  That is what is so wonderful about our Hardin Valley Community; Our Middle school is made up of teachers who bring years of experience and expertise to our profession and we are all collaborating to give our students the very best experience possible.


Adam: Have you earned any professional awards?

Joy: Yes, I was teacher of the year at Northwest and I had the highest TVAAS average. I am just not one of those teachers that displays all of their awards in my room.  I would rather show off in the way that we run our class and our accomplishments instead of displaying some plaques on a wall.  Have you ever heard of AVID?

Adam: Yes. [Read more about AVID here – https://www.avid.org/]

Joy: Well I was an AVID teacher way back when and that’s what AVID does. It’s just sort of like this melting pot of research based strategies and trying to get kids what they need and individualized help but on a teaching level. Northwest was a TAP school [https://www.niet.org/newsroom/press-releases/view/52] so I had somebody in my classroom every week observing me. I had four official evaluations every year and it was so good. Normally if you were a good teacher back in the day, 10 years ago, they’d be like, ‘okay, Joy, good job, thanks, appreciate it.’ Then you’d never see them again. So when tap came around, it was really nice to have a diagnostic of our skills as a teacher. (Turns to the Newspaper students) You guys are measured in the classroom when you write a thesis statement, can you write a body paragraph? Well, I’ve shown you guys the six page rubric about motivating students and asking the proper questions and all of that. So they, they measure us and we just dig into that to grow ourselves.

Adam: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Joy: That’s really hard. It’s really not the awards that you get. That’s kind of subjective, but I feel like I would always have kids come back to me when they left seventh grade and I had a kid a couple of years ago, every day he would come see me. That would happen year after year. These kids would come back, they didn’t want anything, they were just coming to see me…so I might as well check their grades and sort of mentor them. And so that was really cool.

That means a lot to me. That is an accomplishment to me, that people can trust me with their kids and for kids to sort of bond with you and let you mentor them. I think that is a huge accomplishment for me. Knowing that my dad knew that I was a good teacher, that’s probably the most important thing because he would tell me why teachers have bad years because they repeat the same crappy year, year after year after year. I’ve always tried not to do that. I try to be reflective and make myself better every single year. It’s all about people to me. That’s really important. Awards and stuff, it’s fine and I appreciate that and sometimes it’s important for your administration to know what you’re talking about, but I really feel like the biggest accomplishments aren’t things you can measure.


Adam: What do you consider a successful student to be?

Joy: Well, I have a master’s degree in special ed, so I’ve taught self contained ed and I’ve taught kids who have very low IQs. No matter what spectrum they’re on, a successful student is a hard worker, personable and is willing to do the things you asked them to do if you’re in my class. I push pretty hard. So if they’re willing, even if they complain and moan and groan but they just get it done. So a successful student is one that’s willing to make themselves better because that’s my goal. I tell them my goal is to make them better when they leave than when they came to me. It’s painful sometimes, but that’s just how it is.

The most frustrating thing for me is kids who have it, kids who are smart and waste it. Oh my gosh, that just eats us alive because I have seen kids who don’t have it and who will never have it and just work, work, work, work, work, and they work so hard and it’s really frustrating to see kids sort of go by the wayside just because they throw their hands up in the air for circumstance or whatever, but they just wasted things that they have in their head. Bothers me.


Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?

Joy: A loaded question. Having been in this profession for a long time, I feel like I’m experienced enough to answer that question. I feel like the negative perception of teachers in our society needs to change; our testing system needs to change, as well.


Adam: What is something that you could use in your classroom? Something missing…something that could improve what you are doing? What do you need?

Joy: It would be really nice to have a class set of computers that we just had, that we didn’t have to share with anyone. I’ve done goal setting with kids for a long, long time and it’s a daily goal. So they set their goal and every day we go over that goal with them. They quantify how they did – a ten, five or a one. They say whether they met their goal and they have to give specific feedback on why. Then they talk to a partner about it and it is life changing for these kids. I really want that to be online. We have an interactive notebook; I want that to be online. Our philosophy here at Hardin Valley is that computers won’t fix everything and I certainly agree with that. I do. I just think it would sort of streamline the process a little bit. The other thing I would love is to have an iPad that I could control my board with. I think that would be really cool to have and just sort of make things easier.


Adam: What hobbies do you have?

Joy: I really like to work out. My husband has worked out for his whole life. He played football in college [Arkansas Razorbacks] and he’s always been very physically fit. We do 5K’s and stuff together. It’s just a good way for us to bond and have some alone time. It’s a great way for teachers to get together. One of my teacher friends upstairs, we work out together every Wednesday. I also love to read. I really love to read, voracious reading. I really like concerts. I like people and I like to be in the middle of all that. People and noise and stuff like that. I love New York City because of that, but I love concerts and music and anything with the family.

I have three kids so we do a lot of fun things together. This is a really funny story. I have an 18 year old, a 16 year old and a 5 year old. My husband and I’ve been married for 20 years this month, so it keeps us busy. I think we’re much better parents now than we were before. We were just training before and now we’re professionals. So Mason, my 5 year old, gets much better technique and everything. The other two just love him to death because there’s so much time between them. My son, Nathan, is a [college] freshman this year and then Abby is at Farragut High School. She wants to go to Vanderbilt.


Adam: What is a good way for a student or a parent to spoil you?

Joy: Well, one way they do spoil me is they give me lots of food. I get lots of donuts and cookies and cupcakes and bless their heart, I mean, that is really sweet and I’ve never turned down a sweet. I got a whole huge bag of truffles the other day. Oh, that’s great. But I always ask them not to do that because it really is the last thing I need to be doing. We’re always as teachers, trying to watch our weight. I love it when they do thoughtful things for me. I had a kid write me a letter the other day about how he appreciated me and all this stuff.

It’s means something, you know, being thoughtful. I’ve had a lot of ELL (English Language Learners) kids in my classroom before who didn’t speak English and they would draw me pictures, just very sweet. So I think thoughtful things from kids and parents are important. A lot of the parents here will offer to help. ‘Can I come and do something for you?’ And I often get them to come help me at this event or come help me give out pizza. I really like that kind of thing. I guess my love language is service more than food.

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