(September 29, FORT SMITH, AR) - Oretha Faye Ferguson, a Sophomore English Teacher at Southside High School in Fort Smith has been named a regional finalist for the 2011 Arkansas Teacher of the Year competition. Ferguson, who received the Fort Smith Public Schools’ 2010-2011 Teacher of the Year Award, has more than 17 years of experience in education. Throughout her career, she has continually demonstrated a commitment to excellence and a passion for teaching her students the importance of the written word. Her mission: To develop young learners into mature adults who can read, write, think and make decisions.
Ferguson began teaching at Southside in August 2005. Prior to working for the district, she worked at Harvest Time Christian School in Fort Smith where she taught first grade for nine years. There she also served as a physical education instructor for two years and as a first grade instructional aide for one year.
In 1988, Ferguson received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, where she majored in Business Education and minored in English. From 2007 to 2009, she also completed postgraduate continuing education courses through Harding University.
When asked about her teaching philosophy, Ferguson said, “Teaching English allows me to help students increase their vocabulary power, perfect their grammar, and improve their writing skills to become successful in all disciplines across the curriculum and to become effective communicators.” She believes that “writing is conversation on paper” and that through guided techniques, “students can develop their thought into a powerful persuasive tool that can impact others to think and to act.”
“Ms. Ferguson is a teacher’s teacher,” according to Dr. Kathleen Cates, Director of Professional Development for Fort Smith Public Schools. “She is skilled at coaching and motivating other teachers in the integration of technology into teaching and learning.” Ferguson has written and received thousands of dollars in grants to purchase equipment and implement new technology in her classroom. Ferguson is highly sought-after by districts throughout the state to teach educators how to best utilize technology for their students. She has served as a presenter for numerous technology workshops including 1 to 1 Netbook Training, Digital Storytelling and a “Learning to Blog, Blogging to Learn” seminar.
Ferguson extends herself outside of the classroom to help engage her students, as well. She began the Poetry Outloud program at Southside in 2008, which produced a state champion this year. The student went on to compete at the national level in Washington, D.C. In addition to sponsoring Poetry Outloud, Ferguson is a member of the Literacy Task Force and is a Senior Class Sponsor. She also served as the Sophomore Council Sponsor from 2007-2009. For her efforts, Southside High School named her the 2010 Teacher of the Year for the fall semester.
Ferguson is one of 14 teachers selected as a finalist for the annual competition. The winner will be named on November 12th at the second annual Arkansas Teacher of the Year Gala, held at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock. As a finalist, Ferguson will receive a $1000 award, provided by the Walton Family Foundation. If named the state winner, she will be eligible to win an additional $14,000 prize.
Ferguson is a role model for teachers in today’s ever-changing, fast-paced, technology-driven world. Her unique ability to incorporate such advances into the classroom and use such to improve the overall reading and writing skills of her students is to be admired. The lessons she teaches her students reaches far beyond the classroom and carries with them as they mature and progress in their lives. Such is evident by the words of a former student: “Ms. Ferguson has helped to shape many lives. Her goal is to help people succeed and be happy. She takes an interest into her student’s lives, and in the process she enriches them…I am truly grateful to have met her.”