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Teacher of the Year
ALIEF MIDDLE SCHOOL
Ms. Tara Polk
For me, Alief ISD is home. Born in Alief in 1988 to Don and Linda Polk, my three brothers and I attended numerous Alief Schools. Rees Elementary, Albright Middle, Elsik Ninth Grade Center, and Elsik High School are the wonderful schools in which I received my quality education.
During my time in school, you'd find me participating in numerous organizations, dance teams, and cheerleading squads. These many organizations gave the illusion of an ambitious student. Behind this smile was a girl who frequently felt inadequate. I "shined" in other areas; but I wanted to shine academically. Cheerleading and dance were my outlets from the pent up frustration as to why I could not comprehend my schoolwork like my peers. Despite the fact that I was identified as "learning disabled" in the third grade and struggled to learn while receiving special services until the eleventh grade, my teachers never made me feel like a burden or that I would not be able to be successful. In fact, my teachers pushed me harder than I could imagine and never allowed me to "rely on my disability".
I was ultimately put to the test my junior year of high school when I was dismissed from the special education program. To further devastate me, this was the year that passing the TAKS test was required in order to graduate. I made a decision to face my learning issues and not let my disability define me. I was a class officer and varsity cheerleader, spending countless hours at practices and Friday night football games, I often found myself attending numerous tutorials at the crack dawn. I passed all of my TAKS tests and inducted into the National Honor Society. With the extreme support of devoted teachers, I graduated in the Top 10% of my graduating class with no "special labels" other than Cum Laude.
I took the same work ethic and motivation with me to pursue a higher education at Houston Community College and the University of Houston where I graduated from both campuses with Honors. This was such a huge accomplishment for me being the first from my family to attend and complete college while working full time for Alief ISD. It was during these times I learned the joys of working with students that I could easily relate to challenges in their learning academics. This inspired my students to push themselves to take risks and inspired me to become an advocate for students with special needs.
I started my journey in March of 2013 as an In-Class Support Teacher. I enjoyed learning and teaching other content areas while finding ways to make learning accessible to my students. I was extended the opportunity to become a Title I ELAR teacher in 2015 and I have remained in this wonderful program ever since. In this role, I am able to serve students from various backgrounds and with many learning needs. Although this role can be quite challenging at times, I find it critical that I continue to be an advocate for students by providing services and locating resources that they need in order to be successful. I want my students to know that their "inABILITIES" do not define them and with hard work, they can be successful. I feel that I am that I am a perfect model to show them disabilities do not define our outcome.
Teaching can't be all work and no play. In 2010 I had the pleasure of starting Alief Middle School's first dance team, Distinction. Dance team members had the opportunity to learn dance technique from various genres such as hip-hop, jazz, kick, and pom. Participants performed at volleyball games and pep rallies as well. They were able to build camaraderie with their peers through dance.
Five years later, I took on coaching cheerleading and became more ambitious in the goals set for my squad. I was determined to expose the girls to various opportunities like volunteerism, STEM conferences, and youth empowerment events; it was my desire for the cheerleading to go beyond "cheer". They frequently cheer, dance, stunt, and tumble, but I wanted my girls to perform at more than just campus athletic events. Through my tenure as cheer coach, the cheerleaders have participated in parades, district performances, performances at the BeYOUtiful Girls Youth Rallies, Houston Rockets Halftime shows, and have cheered at Varsity athletic events for both Taylor and Hastings High School. Furthermore, I saw the need to establish a "cheer sisterhood" amongst schools in our district. In the midst of mentoring a new cheer coach at Olle Middle School, they quickly became our sister squad as both teams supported one another at various events. The same was done with both Klentzman Intermediate as our "little cheer sisters" and the Hastings High School Varsity Cheerleaders as our "big cheer sisters". My overarching goal for the squad this year is to compete in the Youth Cheer Extravaganza Cheer Competition in March.
The constant support of my parents, undying motivation from my Alief teachers, professors, and colleagues, are not the only reasons why I chose to become a teacher but why I decided to return home and finally call Alief ISD my forever home. Because of this, I am truly #ALIEFPROUD.