Oak Mountain Middle School’s Jeff Norris named as Alabama Teacher of the Year

Published 8:47 am Thursday, May 11, 2023


Jeff Norris, of Oak Mountain Middle School, was named Alabama Teacher of the Year during a special ceremony held at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts on May 10.

As the 2023-2024 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Norris will serve as the state’s official ambassador for education and the teaching profession, according to the Alabama State Department of Education.

Norris was one of four finalists narrowed down from a list of 16 candidates previously announced by the Alabama State Board of Education. Kevin Pughsley, a teacher at Berry Middle School who had previously worked for the Shelby County District, was named as the state’s Alternate Teacher of the Year.

Norris strives to live out John Maxwell’s philosophy, “a great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”

Norris holds an Educational Specialist degree in Teacher Leadership and a master’s degree in Instructional Leadership from the University of Montevallo.

Norris also holds a master’s degree in Gifted Education from the University of South Alabama and a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Alabama.

He currently serves as a sixth-grade teacher at OMMS, but he began his formal career in a variety of distinct positions with the Shelby County School System, including as a third and fifth-grade classroom educator. He was also a highly effective gifted education teacher.

Norris attained National Board Certification and degrees in both Educational and Teacher Leadership. He also entered school administration for eight years and served as an administrative assistant, assistant principal at Inverness Elementary School, and principal at Helena Elementary School.

As the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many to consider life changes, Norris courageously decided to return to the classroom. He taught Advanced English Language Art before transitioning to sixth-grade mathematics.

“My beliefs about teaching center on three words environment, engagement and empowerment,” Norris said. “I ensure that my students are connected to the world around them. When I plan lessons, I keep engagement at the forefront and will go to extreme lengths to engage and gain the attention of our students.

One of Norris’s students, Saisha, described the impact he had on the positive impact he had on achievement.

“This was the best class,” she said. “My friends, classmates and Mr. Norris were more like my family, and this was the first class where I could open up and truly talk without overthinking.”

Another student, Tessa, expressed her thoughts.

“I remember on the first day of school, Mr. Norris handed us a quote to illustrate,” she said. “Mine was, ‘There is no elevator to success—you have to take the stairs.’ I told it to my dad, and he still tells it to me constantly. Every time I hear it, I think back to that day in English class that changed my life.”

Norris said when he thinks about individuals who have influenced him throughout his life, he automatically recalls many of his favorite teachers.

“I experienced first-hand the impact of quality educators who cared about their students and wanted to leave a lasting impression,” Norris said. “I do not take my position lightly, because I know I have this same ability.”

As a teacher, Norris plans lessons that keep student engagement at the forefront and will admittedly go to extreme lengths to “hook” his students.

He has recently attended professional development, completed research and implemented the concept of classroom transformations—a physical transformation of the classroom environment to set the tone for learning that immediately grabs students’ interest while providing a theme that ties standards to activities.

In addition to classroom transformations, Norris has also become a fan and self-proclaimed “missionary” of the “Build Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics” book by Peter Liljedahl. In the book, Lijedhal outlines and advocates for fourteen practices to instill a culture of thinking in classrooms.

“My classroom and school are my mission field, and I use every opportunity available to have a positive impact on my students’ lives,” Norris said. “I hope the passion and enthusiasm I have for teaching are contagious.

“Todd Whitaker says, ‘The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day.’ Each day is unique and may bring challenges, but it also brings an opportunity for growth, learning and perseverance. I am proud and honored to represent Oak Mountain Middle School, Shelby County Schools, and teachers around District 3 who love what they do, the students they teach, and who inspire greatness each day.”