, Port Arthur, Texas

Port Arthur

April 21, 2014

Spears wins Reaud Award

PORT ARTHUR — Wearing a Memorial Titans shirt and a matter-of-fact expression, Patricia Spears closes the door, walks briskly to the center of her Memorial High School classroom and turns to face her students.

“I believe in doing things a little differently,” the English teacher says, effectively summing up her teaching style, her approach to life, and the reason she recently earned a 2014 Reaud Excellence in Education award from the Beaumont Foundation.

Growing up in Hobbs, N.M., Spears always knew she was an anomaly.

“I was a nerd. I was a little black girl reared in an oil-patch town who didn’t speak or write like the others,” Spears said.

Spears has spent the past 40 years, 26 of them full time, nurturing that same visionary spirit in her students. She has taught in four different states — New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and, for the last five years, Texas.

Spears’ classroom tells a story as vibrant as the teacher who occupies it. Photographs depicting iconic moments from the civil rights movement cover the back wall, adding realism to the students’ current assigned reading, Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.”

“The movie glossed over a lot of details,” Spears said. “In order to teach literature, students have to understand the social and political climate.”

Spears flips through a portfolio that chronicles an assignment she calls “visual vocabulary” — illustrating unfamiliar words through art. One student spelled out the word “voracious” using a different food item to represent a letter — a slice of pizza for the “V,” a doughnut for the “O,” and so on.

“You think they’ll ever forget what ‘voracious’ means?” Spears said, laughing.

This is why Spears does what she does — to impart knowledge that won’t dissipate once the test is completed.

“When you assign vocabulary words and tell the students there’s going to be a quiz, they’ll memorize it and forget it,” Spears said. “I try to saturate my students with the environment in which they are going to learn.”

Spears’ lessons do not cease when her students — who affectionately refer to her as “Mama Spears” — complete English III. Spears has been known to track her students’ progress long after they leave Memorial High School.

“I know how they’re doing in all their classes, and when they graduate, I will see how my babies are progressing,” Spears said of her students, who call themselves “Mama Spears’ dears.” “I tell them, ‘When you walked through that door, you became mine. You don’t understand the importance of that yet, but you will.’”


Twitter: @ErinnPA

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