To say Joy Ruiz is at home in Piedmont might be a rather large understatement. The 13-year veteran teacher of the Piedmont Public School District grew up in Piedmont, and so did her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandfather.
“(Piedmont is) just kind of home to me and that’s what I really love about it,” Ruiz said.
In addition to her love for her hometown, Ruiz is also passionate about teaching and that passion was recognized last week when she was named the district’s teacher of the year.
Ruiz is currently an instructor of computers and year book at the middle school. In a nomination form submitted by her peers, Ruiz was described as being always knowledgeable about new technology related to education, willing to help her fellow teachers and a positive role model for her students.
Ruiz began her career in Piedmont in 1998 as a third-grade teacher at Piedmont Elementary School. She later taught second- through fifth-grade, along with computers and Spanish before moving to the middle school in 2006. However, Ruiz’s time in Piedmont goes back much further than her teaching career as she is a fifth generation Piedmont resident and a 1994 graduate of Piedmont High School. She is also a graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma.
“I was very honored that my peers would elect me,” Ruiz said. “That they thought I exemplified great teaching skills.”
Ruiz instructs students on how to better use technology but she also works closely with fellow teachers on helping them become more familiar with technology as it is becoming an increasingly common tool in the classroom.
“The kids are so drawn to technology now because it is at their fingertips…so to bring (technology) into the classroom just sparks their interest,” Ruiz said. “Especially when you teach it in ways (students) have never seen before.”
Ruiz said an important part of teaching technology is helping students discover how they can use new tools to find answers and perform better research.
“We are able to teach the kids…if they do have a question it becomes can you find the answer on that?” Ruiz said. “Can you find what you are looking for? (We) teach them how to learn; (technology) kind of throws it back into their court.”
Other finalists for the teacher of the year award and winners of their individual school were Pat Lewis Gray, a 34-year veteran of the district and current second-grade teacher at Piedmont Elementary School; Angie Wallen a 17-year veteran teacher and currently teaching special education at Northwood Elementary School; Julie Ely, who has taught for 17-years and is currently teaching at Stone Ridge Elementary School and Terry Huff who has taught for 37-years and is currently at Piedmont High School.
Wallen has taught for 17-years and is currently a special education instructor at Northwood Elementary School.
“Teaching is not only a job I love; it is my passion,” Wallen said. “I look forward to going to school each day and strive to help not only students, but my fellow teachers as well.”
Wallen said the best attributes for a teacher are to be energetic, enthusiastic and to always be prepared.
After teaching in Putnam City for 15-years Wallen came to Piedmont in 2010. During her time in Piedmont she has received funding from Grants for Kids, was listed in the “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers” and her school teacher of the year award makes it the fourth time she has received such an honor.
“I believe my greatest contribution in teaching is my ability to work with students who were not successful in other settings,” Wallen said. “Regardless of disability all students deserve an appropriate education in which they can become successful.”
Briscoe is a graduate of Piedmont High School and the University of Central Oklahoma. A 17-year veteran of teaching, she has taught first-grade and kindergarten and currently teaches at the Piedmont Primary School where she was named teacher of the year.
“I wanted to be a teacher from the time I attended first-grade,” Briscoe said. “My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, was an encouraging teacher. She always made me feel I could do anything. I wanted to become a teacher like her.”
Briscoe said her greatest accomplishment as a teacher has been playing a part in the creation of the pre-kindergarten program in Piedmont that is currently serving over 200 students in its seventh year. Briscoe also said she believes the role of a teacher is to not only help develop the intellect, but the whole child.
“A child needs time to develop socially and emotionally as well as academically,” Briscoe said. “As a teacher it is my responsibility to help each student learn positive ways to handle their emotions as well as teach them ways to get along socially.”
Gray is a second-grade teacher at Piedmont Elementary School and has taught for 34-years. She has previously been named teacher of the year twice and was named an outstanding teacher in 1994.
Gray is a graduate of Piedmont High School and Central State University and was also a member of the 1967 state championship basketball team at PHS.
“I remain in contact with several students who now are mothers, grandmothers, teachers, plumbers and other professionals,” Gray said. “They tell me how I have touched their lives in positive ways. This is the reason all outstanding teachers teach.”
Gray also said teaching is a profession where your contributions are sometimes unseen until many years later. She recalls a time while teaching in Bethany where a student refused to practice CPR on a dummy because he didn’t want to “kiss that dummy” in front of the girl he liked. Gray agreed to work with him during her lunch break so he could learn CPR in private without being embarrassed.
“A year or so later a friend contacted me in Texas and told me that this student had saved his father’s life after his father had a heart attack,” Gray said. “I got goose bumps. As teachers we sometimes never know what effect we have on our student’s lives.”
Ely has taught for 17-years after graduating from East Carolina University. She is a music teacher at Stone Ridge Elementary School and has also taught 11-years at the university level.
Ely said she was shy as a child and young adult but she began to open up as she discovered her passion for teaching.
“Something happened when I opened my mouth and heart to help others,” Ely said. “I discovered a confidence and self-worth that was new, yet welcomed, to me.”
Ely has been honored as teacher of the year at all three schools she has worked at and she says the honors have confirmed that her first passion will always be teaching.
As a music teacher Ely said she has the opportunity to teach every student at Stone Ridge and believes her role is more than just teaching music appreciation and understanding.
“I love the fact that through the nature and language of music I am able to foster in my students tolerance, patience and understanding amongst all people groups,” Ely said. “Students recognize that they are all different; however, creative expression in the arts compliments individuality and showcases unity amidst diversity.”
Huff has taught for 37-years and was named district teacher of the year in 1998. He currently teaches social studies and English at Piedmont High School.
Huff said many factors led him to the teaching profession, including the example his grandfather set as a teacher, helping Huff to, “consider teaching to be an honorable if not noble vocation.”
When asked to list his greatest attributes as an educator, Huff recalls his many late night hours of preparing to become a teacher and his commitment to providing meaningful feedback to students and helping them with not only educational challenges, but life challenges as well.
“I do believe (education’s) major strengths rest in those who have been and continue to drive for success every single day in the classrooms of our schools,” Huff said. “Enthusiasm, creativity, patience, flexibility and dedication are, in my opinion, the required components necessary for success in education today, and this refers to students as well as teachers.”