If you drop by the Stewart Street Elementary classroom of Gadsden County’s Rookie Teacher of the Year, Nicole Dixon, you might find her students at the Smart Board teaching each other. You may find them eagerly raising their hands to answer a question from their teacher. You might even find them dancing.
But what you’ll definitely find is a teacher who is passionate about helping her students become passionate about learning.
A native Floridian raised in Pompano Beach, Dixon came to teaching later in life. She came to the area to attend Florida A&M University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She worked for several years as a correctional probation officer, and a medical disability analyst, but says she just decided one day she’d rather teach.
“Just thinking about my work and the adults I worked with and the bad decisions they made, I thought, maybe if I can catch them on the front end, and change their paths early, then maybe I won’t see as much (negative outcomes) as I saw in the adults,” she said.
Now in her third year of teaching, Dixon teaches third grade, and says she loves being in the “FCAT grade.”
“At first, I was petrified. I thought I wasn’t ready and I was a wreck the first year in third grade,” she said. “Now it’s like, my kids are looking at Level 5. I don’t even think they know there’s any other score. That’s all I’ve been saying. I don’t want them to just think they can pass, I want them to exceed the bare minimum.”
Dixon taught first grade at SSES her first year in the classroom, and hopes to be able to gain experience in all of the elementary grades in the coming years.
But right now, she is loving third grade.
“It’s a big year. The first two years, you’re learning to read. Now you are reading to learn. This is the year I have to catch all of the deficiencies that might have come along with the chid and try to help them master this grade. That’s a big challenge,” she said.
During her first year of teaching, Dixon says she learned a lot about herself personally and professionally.
“I didn’t realize how hard teachers have to work. I thought the kids would have everything they would need and I’ll I’d have to do was go in and say it and they’d master it,” she said. “But there’s so much more that goes into teaching. Teachers are so much more...parents...social workers. There’s so much you have to deal with as a teacher.”
Dixon said she has bought coats for kids in her class who didn’t have one, and she keeps the young men well-supplied in belts, saying their pants will not hang low.
“Not on my watch,” she said with a smile.
Much more strict and structured during her first year in the classroom, Dixon said she’s learned that not all noise in the room means disorder, and that children learn in different ways.
“I’ve learned to nurture their learning styles and who they are, and their interests so I can encourage them,” she said.
One of Dixon’s biggest concerns is making sure her students know they can succeed academically.
“I’ve had some students who say they don’t know anyone that finished school. I tell them it’s possible to get a scholarship and go to college. I tell them I believe in them and they can do it,” she
One student brought tears to her eyes when he told her he didn’t know if he’d make it to high school.
“But I’ve erased that slate. Erased it. He knows that it’s a possibility now. He’s seen his grades increase and he knows it can be done,” she said.
Dixon was surprised to learn she’d been named Rookie Teacher of the Year, and said her students were excited and cried – which made her cry as well.
“I was just shocked out of my mind. I’m not
from an education background, and I still feel so inadequate, so I was just overwhelmed. It was a beautiful moment,” she said.
Dixon has been married to her husband, Kevin, for 6 years. Her daughter, Jelissa Russ, is a junior at Leon High School, and active in the band. Dixon enjoys swimming, reading, traveling and spending time with her family.
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