By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(March 30, 2023) Jaimie Ridgely, a 7th and 8th grade literacy and tech ed teacher at Stephen Decatur Middle School, has been named Teacher of the Year by Worcester County Board of Education.
“There are so many amazing educators across our county and cohort,” Ridgely said. “This is humbling, amazing, exciting. I really have not wrapped my brain around everything yet. I feel privileged to do it [teach].”
“Jaimie will be a fantastic representative not only for her school, but our entire school system as she progresses to the state-level program. Her passionate advocacy for building student literacy is to be commended,” Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor said.
Ridgely’s teacher genes kicked in at a young age.
“I am the oldest in my family. When I was young, my parents bought me a chalkboard, and I forced my siblings to play school with me. I did not realize I wanted to be a teacher; it was just something I liked to do.”
Mrs. Dominga Joyce, her 5th grade teacher in El Paso, Texas, talked about going to college. “No one had ever talked to me about going to college,” Ridgely said. “I remember being absolutely taken. I wanted to go to college and be a teacher.
“I tried to fight the urge. I wanted to make money. I was going to be a lawyer. But after the first semester, I switched to education.”
She graduated from Salisbury University with a degree in literacy. Ridgely earned her masters and doctoral degrees at Salisbury, where she also serves as an adjunct professor. She was the first person in her immediate family to attend college.
“There’s so much I love about teaching. My days are full of joy and excitement. I learn more from my students than they learn from me. It is amazing to see how they transform as they discover and develop their own literate lives.”
Ridgely prioritizes writerly identity exploration, joy, and agency in her Enrichment and Technology Education classes. She believes community, voice, choice, and reflections are the cornerstones of building a student-centered classroom.
“Many students lament not having the freedom to write. They don’t like writing in school.
“But they have a writerly identity. They see themselves as writers. They have self-selected genres that pull them into writing. Even if that identity is not what they are in school, they have rich writing lives at home.”
Ridgely cultivates that.
“I want them to know that when life requires them to write, they can write and do it competently and confidently.”
She gives them the encouragement and support to do that.
“Opening up space for them to explore writing processes, preferences, genres they want to write; they can figure out for themselves what they enjoy bringing to the page. And learning what it takes to be successful writers.”
She cultivates their interests from graphic novels, to YouTube scripts, to manuals on how to beat a video game.
“Writing is hard. I help them to see what they can be successful with. They grow from there.”
“Some of them still don’t like to write. I help them get ideas from their heads to words on the page.”
“The future is writing. The more people write, the more they read,” Ridgely said. “They will be judged by their writing before people have the pleasure of meeting them.”
“It’s important that the things we are doing in the classroom really prioritize the development of literate lives. Preparing kids not for more school, but what happens after school. We need to use our time wisely,” Ridgley said.
If Ridgely had it her way, “we would have more books! Books everywhere, in every classroom,” she said. “I would have teacher libraries, graphic novels, access to literacy and field trips to experience the world.”
With over 21 years of teaching experience, Ridgely also serves on her school improvement team, is a peer mentor and professional learning facilitator, and Worcester LEAD teacher. She also dedicates time after school to stoking the interests of her students through programs like her Book Club, Dungeons & Dragons, and tutoring sessions.
Ridgely was one of four finalists announced during the program, who were in the running for the prestigious title. The other outstanding finalists were Michelle Bradley of Pocomoke High School, Silviya Gallo of Worcester Technical High School, and Wendy Macrides of Ocean City Elementary School.
Ridgely was selected by a panel of judges representing experts in the field of education, community leaders, and the current reigning 2022 Worcester County Teacher of the Year.
All candidates were judged based on a rigorous set of criteria in alignment with both the state and national level Teacher of the Year programs, which include instructional abilities, collaboration, building connections with the community, leadership and innovation both in and out of the classroom, and the ability to articulate their education beliefs and advocate for how to better this field.