- Alma School District
Alma High School Teacher of the Year: Sherry Siler 7/4/2021
Headline: Siler named AHS 'Teacher of the Year'
By Kevin Taylor
Late in March 2020, as the world shuttered to a stop with COVID-19, Sherry Siler found herself spinning toward darkness. Schools closed, churches boarded up their windows, and people waited for something they had little control over.
More than a year later, however, hands-on Sherry Siler didn't just fling COVID to the ground like swatting a gnat; she absolutely killed it.
"She wants to be the best, and she is the best," Alma principal Brian Kirkendoll said. "To me, she's the best DECA teacher in the United States."
Siler was chosen Alma High School "Teacher of the Year."
"It's very humbling and an honor to be recognized by your peer group," Siler said. "(But) this isn't really a job to me. It's a career, but coming to work isn't a job to me because I love what I do. I like the challenges and I like dealing with what human beings have to offer.
"It's a challenging career, (but) it's something different every day, and it's something I love."
Siler long ago earned a reputation as one of the top DECA teachers in the state, let alone the country.
"When I went to California over a year ago for a DECA conference, it's amazing how people from all over the United States flock to her," Kirkendoll said. "Her work ethic, you can't touch it. Her dedication to being the best is phenomenal.
"Kids know that, and they know if they do what she wants them to do, they will be successful."
Siler's teaching strategy? Being prepared isn't multiple choice.
"My role is to be able to coach and facilitate learning; I want every student we have in Alma High School to be able to enter the workforce and have skills, and not only have technical skills but to have those professional skills that they're going to need,” she said.
"Showing up on time, being ready for work that day ... taking part in a bigger community than your own little world."
Siler's classes aren't just about that day's workload, either.
"They (students) need to learn about themselves, so they'll know where they need to grow," she said. "They need to know that learning does not end at 3:30 every day; it's a lifelong process.
"To be a functioning person in society, you really have to brace the fact you're going to be learning for the rest of your life."
It was a less complicated time when Siler was in high school. A 1979 AHS graduate, the former Sherry Brown leaned on mentors such as business teacher Fred McDonald, math teacher. Bruce Casalman, and English teacher Denise Coleman.
'Things are not the same as they were when I was in high school; the world is going to change," she said. "Are we going to be able to change with it?
"They (students) have to be able to adapt."
Despite adhering to social distancing guidelines, something she admits to struggling with, Siler's 2020-21 students ambled on.
In the pre-COVID world of 2019, Siler taught her kids to look adults in the eye by shaking hands and greeting them at the door to her classroom — a simple process used to help young adults become better at life.
Because of social distancing procedures, however, that became a thing of the past.
"That's one thing I really missed this year," Siler said. "I missed seeing the students at the door, shaking their hands. Just shaking a hand is a skill, and how that will change post-COVID, I don't know.
"Being able to look someone in the eye is a skill they (students) learned before 2020 at the classroom door."
Siler insists she had no plans to become a teacher growing up — though an old childhood memory tells a different story.
"My parents had given me a chalkboard for my birthday or Christmas, and I held class in our garage when I was 5 or 6 years old for the neighborhood kids," she said. "I don't know that I realized I wanted to be a teacher then, but I think I've always had that strain in my blood."
After college, Siler was part of the financial world, which ultimately included teaching.
"I did a lot of training for employees and I decided that I really wanted to do that all the time," Siler said. "I went back to get the credentials to be able to work in a public school."
Twenty-five years removed from Alma High School, Siler admits she didn't know her way around very well when she was hired back in 2004.
"There are different toys now," she said. "I know when I came back in '04, I had to utilize the map that was in the teacher handbook to be able to find my way around. The physical structure had changed so much."
It might have changed a lot this year with COVID, too, had it not been for Alma's supportive administration, Siler said.
"With Mr. Kirkendoll, Dr. Wood, and Mr. Reeves, we've had very strong and supportive leadership this year," Siler said. "I have a poster in the hallway that I believe in. It says, 'A boss says go, and a leader says let's go.'
"I feel that our three administrators at the high school have been that 'let's go' leadership this year. From the standpoint of someone that's in the classroom, I appreciate that so much, because they're not just throwing us out there — they're going to be out there helping us along the way."