EES teacher named one of Alabama’s top teachers

East Elem. teacher April Dean ‘Sweet 16’ finalist for Alabama teacher of the year

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(Photo courtesy of Cullman City Schools)

CULLMAN, Ala. – An East Elementary School teacher has been named a finalist for one of the most prestigious education honors in Alabama.

East Elementary fourth grade teacher April Dean, who is already District VI Elementary Teacher of the Year, has been named a “Sweet 16” finalist for Alabama Elementary Teacher of the Year. The phase effectively narrows down the list of candidates to 16 total teachers from across the state and Dean made the cut from more than 150 educators.

East Elementary School Principal David Wiggins said he was ecstatic but not at all surprised to learn that Dean had made it so far after being selected District VI Elementary Teacher of the Year.

“It has been my observation that students in her classroom have the benefit of going beyond paper and pencil instruction. Mrs. Dean’s students are hands-on and minds-on, immersed in the learning process, and leaders of their own learning. She has created a class culture of excellence,” he said. “We have long said that EES stands for the ‘Excellent Elementary School.’ Mrs. Dean’s recognition is another example of why that is so.”

The Alabama State Department of Education notes these outstanding educators, selected as finalists for the Alabama 2022- 2023 Teacher of the Year, personify teaching excellence. To make it this far, every finalist must excel in the classroom, inspire students through mentorship and utilize innovative classroom instruction to motivate classroom achievement.

“When I was being recommended to the board to teach fourth grade at East Elementary School a few years ago, the 2019 Cullman City Teachers of the Year were being recognized at the board meeting that evening,” Dean said. “Mr. Wiggins leaned over to me, smiled, and said, ‘That’s going to be you in a few years.’ His confidence in me made such a difference, and his high expectations for me are very much like my high expectations for my students.  I am such a blessed teacher to work at East Elementary School.”

Dean has been teaching since 2005 and is in her third year at East Elementary School. She has been a constant innovator during her time at East Elementary, engaging students with projects ranging from building solar-powered ovens, to letting them handle arthropods and craft centipede habitats to learn about senses and behavior in animals.

“In my heart was always a desire to teach; however, my heart hoped to be other things as well. After a family trip and swimming with dolphins as a child, I decided to become a marine biologist. As an adolescent, I wore braces to improve my smile and resolved that dental school was in my future. When my mom let me redecorate my bedroom as a teen, I knew I was destined for interior design. Later, I became sports editor of the yearbook, dreamed of being on television and considered a career in journalism and broadcasting,” Dean said. “Twenty years later, I am at East Elementary School living out all of my dreams. As a fourth-grade science teacher I research ocean animals with my eager students. My classroom is constantly redecorated to engage children. I sing and lead classroom discussions and games, much like a television host would. I excitedly help newly toothless students bag teeth to take home for the Tooth Fairy. The best teachers use all of their skills to reach their students. I get to be a scientist, a designer, an entertainer and more.”

Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said he is incredibly proud of the work being done at East Elementary School and across Cullman City Schools.

“We are so honored to have Mrs. Dean representing Cullman City Schools and East Elementary School at this level,” he said. “She is the epitome of the creative, inventive, caring attitude of the amazing educators across our system.”