As we are seeing right now, blessings still come even out of the darkest of times. Hardin Valley Elementary’s Mrs. Jennifer Melton comes to Knoxville by way of post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans. She is generous, kind and says the word shrimp just like Bubba Gump! I love her, your kids love her and you will too.
Adam: Where were you born?
Jennifer: I was born in New Orleans.
Adam: How did you end up in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jennifer: Hurricane Katrina. We evacuated to Texas to my uncle’s house. We had 23 people and 13 animals living in a two bedroom house with him. It was quite crowded. We stayed there for about six months, and we were able to go back one time after a month of being away. We went back to clean our fridges, check on property and start any kind of claims that were needed. That was probably the most disgusting thing I have ever had to do. Cleaning out the refrigerator in the August heat was just horrible. Our homes weren’t flooded, but there was a lot of damage. We had a ceiling cave in, everyone’s fences were down and we had stuff in our pool. Compared to some people who lost everything, it wasn’t all that bad though.
Adam: What part of town did you live in?
Jennifer: We lived on the Westbank. It’s on the west side of the river. The majority of New Orleans is on the Eastbank which is almost directly across.
Adam: Why did you choose Knoxville?
Jennifer: I had an aunt and a cousin that lived here. We came to visit and just loved it. It was still southern and it had a bigger airport. It’s a city without being too big of a city. We loved the mountains and climate. We actually get seasons here compared to Louisiana. My whole entire family moved up here. That included my mom and four sisters and their families. We had a family meeting and sat down, we all wrote down what we wanted and Knoxville fit them all. In one summer, we sold two businesses and five houses and we all moved.
Adam: What college did you go to?
Jennifer: LSU – University of New Orleans
Adam: What did you major in?
Jennifer: Education. I went to junior college for two years and I majored in Business. I knew that after two years that it wasn’t for me. My mom was a teacher, my aunt was a teacher, and I used play teacher when I was a kid. I thought I’d give education a chance.
Adam: Why Special Education?
Jennifer: In Louisiana, you could teach out of field. I was first a general education teacher. The first job that I got was teaching in a special education classroom. I did that for five years and then Hurricane Katrina hit. When I moved to Knoxville, I could not get a job as a teacher with my General Education certificate. It was 800 applicants to one position. I needed to do something to set myself apart. I did longtime subbing during that time, trying to get into schools and my foot in the door. Supervisors told me that I needed to go back to school. I went to UT for one summer and got my certification in Special Education while I was eight months pregnant with Abby. It was hard but I did it. The very next year, I taught at the department of children’s services. That October, when Abby was one, I got a call from Knox County and I got hired as a Special Ed teacher at Karns Elementary. I was there for one year and then I came here to Hardin Valley Elementary. Special Education is my love. I like the part where you feel needed, not just as a teacher, but as someone that loves these kids. I really love these kids.
Adam: How many years have you taught?
Jennifer: This is my 18th year.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Jennifer: I know it sounds corny but I love children, and it’s a plus to have summers off.
Adam: What clubs do you sponsor?
Jennifer: I’m a third year girl scout leader. My daughter, Abigail, started kindergarten here at Hardin Valley. She’s now in third grade with Smith and Goebel. She wanted to be a girl scout and they didn’t have a troop here, so started one. Now, we have 13 girls this
year. Last year we had 25. Once they start getting older, some of the kids start finding other interests. A lot of girls stopped our troop to be cheerleaders. Our cookie booths start on Friday. We are in the cookie season!
Adam: What’s your favorite cookie?
Jennifer: My favorite cookie would be thin mints.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Jennifer: I would be a librarian. I love to organize things!
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher in school?
Jennifer: Mr. Hale, my 10th grade history teacher. He really got to know his students and really cared. Where most of the high school teachers would hang out in their room, he would stand in the halls and really connect with the kids. That just really meant a lot to me.
Adam: What teacher have you learned the most from?
Jennifer: Sue Goddard. She passed away two years ago from cancer. She had taught here [Hardin Valley Elementary] for about 15 years. There’s a plaque of her in our conference room. She was a special education teacher. When I got here, she helped me through things. It really impacted the school a lot.
Adam: What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?
Jennifer: Being a mom!
Adam: What is one thing you’d like parents and students to know?
Jennifer: Kindness. I think in order to get children to learn, you have to reach them at their basic needs. Be kind to them, feed them when they are hungry, figure out why they are upset and fix it. You can’t reach them if the basics aren’t covered. Kindness is a big part of that.
Adam: What is the difference between a good and a great teacher?
Jennifer: A great teacher, teaches from the heart and gives her students what they need; which may be a smile, a hug or something to eat.
Adam: What improvement would you like to see made to public education?
Jennifer: Teacher’s pay. Teachers put in way more than just the hours they spend at school. We take it home, we stay later hours, we work just as hard as other professions. If you take time into consideration, I think it needs to be more fair.
Adam: What do your real working hours look like?
Jennifer: School starts at 7:30am and I get here right at 7:30am from Halls. Even though school is out at 2:30, I’m here until 4 or 4:30 everyday and then here until 7:00pm on days we meet for Girl Scouts. Most days, I’m doing paperwork at home, after cooking dinner, in front of the TV for the hour before I have to go to bed. I need a secretary just for the paperwork right there. There’s tons of it!
Adam: What’s something you could use in your classroom?
Jennifer: More technology such as Chromebooks. I actually just got two today. If I could get two more, we would be set.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Jennifer: I am into sewing, reading, estate sale shopping.
Adam: What’s a good way for a teacher or student to spoil you?
Jennifer: Gift cards to anywhere! It could be Amazon, Target or Walmart. It’s going to the kids anyway. Anything would help!
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