When it comes to the state Teacher of the Year contest, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education grads are on a winning streak.

Birmingham native Dana Jacobson is the 2016-2017 Alabama Teacher of the Year. She is the sixth UAB School of Education alum, and the fourth in four consecutive years, to win the state’s top prize. The past winners are: Ann Dominick, Ed.D., (1999); UAB Associate Professor of Education Tonya Perry, Ph.D., (2000); Alison Grizzle, Ed.D., (2013); Anne Marie Corgill (2014); and Jennifer Brown (2015).

“I’m still in awe,” says Jacobson, who has taught English at Clay-Chalkville High School since 1999. “ I was extremely surprised. I was a teacher of the year at Clay-Chalkville High School in 2004, and I went all the way to the state level. I really never expected to be back in this position again.”

Jacobson is now eligible to compete for National Teacher of the Year. The judges will announce the winner next April.

Jacobson’s journey to becoming a teacher began after she spent six years teaching English language courses in Japan and working in the import-export business throughout Asia. When she returned home to Birmingham, she enrolled in the UAB School of Education Master’s Teacher Education Program and specialized in the English language arts.

“I started getting these opportunities to learn how to teach English and had the strategies,” says Jacobson, “I was hooked.”

After earning her master’s degree in 1998, she started her career as a long-term substitute teacher at Clay-Chalkville High School. The following year, the school’s principal offered her a permanent position, she says.

Experiential Learning

“My overall philosophy of teaching [English] composition is based on experiences,” says Jacobson. “I believe that in order for someone to write about something, they have to experience something first.”

Therefore, Jacobson says she often organizes different classroom activities for her students. The activities can be as simple as having students mix different colors of paint and then asking them to write about what they observe.

“I think it’s important that teachers create interesting and fun experiences and have students write in response to a simple prompt about their experiences. The experience can be, for example, a field trip to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute during which students engage meaningfully with multiple aspects of a topic of high interest and then write about their personal reactions. When you get students to participate in an activity and write about it, that’s when it becomes experiential, and they’re more engaged in the writing process.”

Inspiring Others

Jacobson says she is looking forward to taking a year off from the classroom - even though she says she will miss her students - to fulfill her duties as Alabama Teacher of the Year. She plans to visit other public schools and to speak at various colleges and state meetings. Her focus as the Alabama Teacher of the Year is on creating partnerships to improve public education.

She also wants to inspire more people to enter the teaching profession, she says, and encourage veteran teachers to remain in the classroom.

“For lots of different reasons, older teachers are leaving the classroom,” says Jacobson. “But older teachers have experience with the materials, strategies, and methods that allow them to engage students a different way. They have a keen sense of how vital connections with students truly are to the learning process. Older teachers have a different perspective, and it’s a perspective that our students need to have.”