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Teacher Jessica Griffin helps students accept themselves

Self-acceptance is a lesson Jessica Griffin feels junior high students need to learn.

The seventh-grade English teacher is Warren Central Junior High School’s Teacher of the Year. She is one of 21 teachers in the area nominated for the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber’s Teach of the Year honors.

Last year Griffin had her classes read the book “The Skin I’m in,” and the lyrics to “Beautiful,” by Christina Aguilera in an effort to teach them to love themselves regardless of outside opinions. She asked the students to share what makes them beautiful, and she said the response was emotional. Her goal was to motivate her students to realize they can do incredible things.

“I told my students that they were beautiful and to never let anyone tell them otherwise,” she said. “I chose this lesson to show my students that they are beautiful and to illustrate that loving yourself is what matters more than anything…It is my job to show students that true beauty comes from within.”

She said she always tries her best to give her all to her students and treat each of them as if they were her own children.

“Every day I learn something from them, and they learn something from me. That’s the thing I love most about teaching. Not only can I teach them, but they can teach me,” she said. 

Griffin likes to use creative, critical thinking activities in the classroom. Whether inviting a guest speaker to incorporate real world examples into their lessons or using technology to prepare the students for the workforce, she feels these type lessons bring excitement to the classroom. Each Friday she lets students have time to write about any topic they choose, and the students have the option of sharing it with the class.

Watching her students grow and learn is rewarding to Griffin. She loves to see their faces light up and to expose them to new subject matter.

“I just love the everyday interaction with my students,” she said.

Griffin said she is continually working to improve her teaching strategies and student achievement. Three ways she approaches her lessons are through data driven instruction — using student assessment; differentiation — considering the needs of each student; and cooperative learning communities — working in small groups. 

Both of Griffin’s parents were teachers, but she shied away from the education field. Her mother taught in the Vicksburg Warren School District for 33 years, and her father taught for 46 years at Alcorn State University.

“There was a connection with young people that I always had. It seemed to come to me naturally, but I knew the downside of teaching. The long hours and the lack of pay,” Griffin said.

She went to school and considered becoming a journalist because of her love for writing. Instead she spent 14 years working in the casino industry, but one day decided she wanted a career where she could give back.

“I always felt I was meant for something more, and when I started substitute teaching in 2009, I never looked back. It was my calling. You run from what’s meant for you sometimes,” Griffin said. “It was always my calling. I wish I had done it sooner.”

Griffin has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a master’s degree in teaching from Alcorn State University. She started as a substitute teacher for the school district in 2009. Since 2010, she has worked in the district as a compensatory reading and math teacher, a Read 180 teacher and as a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher.

“I teach because I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said.

Griffin is a member of the National Education Association and the Mississippi Association of Educators.

Griffin said she has two children — a 16-year-old and a 2-year-old. Twenty-one teachers in Warren County were nominated for teacher of the year. The Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce has selected a panel of educators to interview each school’s chosen teacher and will choose one elementary and one secondary teacher of the year on Feb. 15. Both teachers will receive $1,000.

Today’s story is the 13th in a series of articles on each teacher up for the honor of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce’s Teacher of the Year.