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Phoenix Forward magazine

Top teachers pay it forward with a scholarship

When two of the nation’s top teachers had an opportunity to pay forward a full-tuition scholarship to University of Phoenix, both selected educators from their own school districts.

As state nominees for National Teacher of the Year, these teachers received the Teaching It Forward® scholarship from the University to pass on to someone else.

Susan Turnipseed, a South Dakota fourth-grade technology teacher, chose first-grade teacher DeShawn Scott for the honor, while Georgia’s Pam Williams, a high school economics teacher, picked teaching paraprofessional Suzette Spainhoward.

Scott, of Brookings, South Dakota, has taught for 12 years. Her mother was a teacher, she says, so she’s pretty sure her career choice is in her DNA. It just so happens that one teacher who inspired her, back in fourth grade, was Turnipseed.

Susan Turnipseed and DeShawn Scott

Scott is pursuing a master’s in early childhood education with her scholarship because she enjoys teaching younger children.

“First-graders are amazing,” she says. “Every day is a new experience. I love helping them discover new things and really ‘get it’ for the first time.”

She adds that she’s encountered her own “aha” moments in her degree program. “I’ve learned things I couldn’t wait to try out in class,” she says, citing a course that inspired her to add art standards to her curriculum.

For Scott, who will complete her degree program later this year, “teaching first grade is where my heart is. This scholarship is helping enhance a career that I absolutely love.”

Edie Baxley, Suzette Spainhoward and Pam Williams

Spainhoward loves teaching, too. But because of her family responsibilities, she couldn’t complete a bachelor’s degree the first time around. “I always regretted not finishing college,” she recalls.

Living in remote Baxley, Georgia, with her disabled husband and a young daughter, Spainhoward thought the cost and time commitment of earning a degree was insurmountable. That is, until Williams presented her with the Teaching It Forward scholarship. Spainhoward is about a year away from completing her bachelor’s in elementary education.

Spainhoward worked in the hospitality industry for many years. Six years ago, however, when her daughter started school, she became interested in education and was hired as a paraprofessional at the local elementary school, where she works in the computer lab.

Her career change was fortuitous: In 2011, the school board recommended to Williams that the scholarship be offered to a local paraprofessional. Spainhoward was chosen from among more than a dozen applicants.

“It was like winning the lottery,” she says. “I’m tearing up just thinking about it again. What a wonderful opportunity.”

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