Another Great Georgia Teacher: Her classroom hums with activity

University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky returns today with another installment of his “Great Georgia Teacher” series.

Today, he tells us about Bynikini Frazier of the Savannah-Chatham Public Schools.

By Peter Smagorinsky

greateach

Bynikini Frazier was named Teacher of the Year for Savannah-Chatham Public Schools at the age of 27.  Here, she dons bee attire in anticipation of the arrival of the class’s very own hive.

Educators often say it takes a good five years or so to develop any sort of teaching mastery. Heck, I’ve been at it since the mid-1970s and am still working at it. Some people get there a lot faster.

Among them is Bynikini Frazier of the Savannah-Chatham Public Schools, where in February she was named the system’s Teacher of the Year at the tender age of 27.

Bynikini teaches first grade at Sarah Mills Hodge Elementary School. She meets a profile often seen among people who go into teaching: Her mother and grandmother were teachers, and, as she has said, “It’s in my blood. I was one of those kids who played school with my dolls and my bears. I gave them homework and detention. . . . I remember as a student here at Hodge in fifth grade deciding I wanted to be a teacher, and from then on strived to become that.”

Little did those dolls and bears know how lucky they were to be this precocious woman’s first students, homework, detentions, and all.

Like so many people who become teachers, Bynikini was an outstanding student throughout her education: Valedictorian of the Savannah Arts Academy’s Class of 2005, summa cum laude University of Georgia graduate in seven semesters, and earner of a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Armstrong State University.

She shares another trait with so many teachers I’ve met in Oklahoma and Georgia since becoming a teacher educator in 1990: In seeking guidance for how to give her life meaning, she said, “I prayed for God to take me to the students who needed me the most. I felt God was telling me that this is where I needed to be.”

Teaching under challenging circumstances benefits from belief in a higher purpose, whether from the Almighty or other source. I should emphasize I am personally not religious at all, and so am not making this point to advance religion’s role in public education.

What I do find so striking is the way in which a deeply inspired faith can produce a committed professional whose life is devoted to good works such as teaching, even as many others have arrived at the same destination through pathways paved with other kinds of beliefs. “I think if God could give me a gift, this has to be the greatest gift: to come back to a school that has helped shape and mold me to what I am,” she said.

Great teachers, especially in urban situations, are often depicted as lone creative geniuses who inspire kids through unconventional methods: Jaime Escalante, Erin Gruwell, LouAnne Johnson, and others whose stories have made for successful adaptation to film. In reality, most teachers rely on mentors, colleagues, and others to help them get established in the classroom.

At Hodge, which Bynikini attended as a girl, she found inspiration in the models provided by former teachers who instilled in her a love of learning.

A love of learning is often fueled by passionate engagement, and Bynikini infuses her class with fun, high expectations for academics and conduct, singing and creative thinking. A dancer, she brings such active forms of learning as creative dance into the classroom, just one of many ways she keeps her students on their toes.

As reported in articles written about the 2015 Georgia Teacher of the Year competition (which post-dates the award year), for which she was a finalist, “her passion for teaching isn’t something that can be easily conjured up — it is a blessing and a calling that has an indelible impact on some of the neediest students.”

Her principal, Yvette Wells, summarized her qualities well: “Bynikini’s personality, style and energy set her apart. She is the teacher that parents request for their children because she is willing to do whatever it takes to reach every child no matter what their level, or who they are or where they come from.”

Bynikini does more than just love her kids and keep them hopping, not to mention hoping. She was recently selected for the UGA Class of 2014 40 Under 40, a designation accorded the university’s highest young achievers, and serves on the university’s College of Education Board of Visitors, an important advisory group to Dean Kennedy.

She was also recently one of seven teachers who won Georgia’s Innovation Teaching Competition, a STEM instruction program available through federal Race to the Top financing. Whether you like RTTT or not, it’s a high honor to be selected in this fierce competition.

So, what does STEM instruction look like in first grade? My first image is of kids grimacing while laboring through paper-and-pencil problems, with one eye on the clock and the other on the window. In keeping with her emphasis on engaged learning, however, Bynikini teaches science through hands-on engagement, such as when she secured an observation beehive from the Savannah Bee Company and the Bee Cause Project.

Said Bynikini, “These are students who, over the course of their lives, will probably never come in contact with a hive, so this is really a blessing. We’re going to use this for art and writing and science and research. Instead of reading about it in a book or looking at a picture, we have an actual hive and live bees right here. I’m so excited.”

The hive is secured within a revolving glass case, equipped with a tube that allows the bees to head outdoors and return to educate the kids about their lives. These bees include a Hawaiian queen and 25,000 workers and drones.

To prepare for its arrival, Bynikini’s students learned about the lives of honey bees, including their social organization and honey-production processes. The picture with this essay shows Bynikini dressed as a bee, with her kids also in Happy Bee Day headbands, ready to begin their scientific investigations.

Learning science from a classroom beehive — I like that idea. Thanks to teachers like Bynikini Frazier, inner city kids are getting attuned to nature and learning science through direct observation, recording, measurement, interpretation, and delight. That sounds like great teaching to me, and it’s yours to follow on Twitter at @msbfrazier and to read her class blog.

 

Reader Comments 0

15 comments
popacorn
popacorn

How is Smag going to afford to send his kids to expensive private schools unless he continues to drum  up business for UGA's silly education courses on this blog? Conflict of interest?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

The professor hinted at something that should be discussed in another blog:  Are parents allowed to request what teacher a student has, or are they randomly placed, or are the most dire given to a certain teacher?  At the current time, this is an important question!


Kudos to Ms. Frazier.  I'd love for my grandkids to be in her class.

seatea
seatea

Ms. Frazier does a great job of engaging her students. I love that she was able to go into the community and talk to someone to get a beehive in her classroom. She knows that students learn better by interacting than just sitting and listening. I like the idea that she is using it for other subjects like writing and art instead of just science.

It sounds like she really understand what is best for her students!

The_Centrist
The_Centrist

Good topic, although tired of this professor.


FYI - readers beware there ar 15 hidden beacons, analytic, ad trackers, and widgets on this AJC page that the "Ghostery" addon for the Mozilla Firefox browser finds and can block.  You need to keep the following to see and post:  Janrain, Livefyre, and Omniture (Adobe analytics).

redweather
redweather

@The_Centrist  Why not write your own guest column and give readers a chance to decide if you have anything valid to say.  Anyone can snipe.

prarrd
prarrd

By some small chance, does she speak ebonics like most of her kind? Most black teachers speak ebonics, and you'd think by now, they could speak the English language. ESPECIALLY if they are teachers! Black teachers in black areas speak like little children. It's really sad for the students. Then we end up with a whoooole new generation of EBONIC SPEAKING kids who wonder "Why nobaady like me, is? It all RACISM!"

Astropig
Astropig

@prarrd 

Go back to your Christmas shopping at KKK- Mart. It's idiots like you that make it tough to have a reasoned discussion on any education topic.This woman is doing some good work.None of your ignorant nonsense can diminish that.

Ms. Frazier, ignore idiots like this guy. Keep up the good work!

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@Astropig @prarrd While I think prarrd's point was a little harsh, I do believe s/he is making a point worth discussing.  I actually think the point needs to be expanded to include southern speakers as well.  My kids have had teachers who have "axed" them some questions.  They've also had teachers "fixin'" to do something or who couldn't use a correct subject/verb agreement if pressed.  Those teachers are in need of remedial English training b/c their daily conversations can build a habit in an impressionable kid.  I spent many days last year erasing bad grammar and southern speak my daughter picked up from her reading teacher... and I live in East Cobb.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@EdumacateThat @Astropig @prarrd 

Ah, the dialect of white Southern English...As a transplanted Northerner (of 30+ years) I can attest that it can be as hard to understand for the non-speaker as the dialect of Black Vernacular English.

dontstereotypemeyo
dontstereotypemeyo

@EdumacateThat @Astropig @prarrd


She is making "a point worth discussing" in the wrong context, especially considering that a cum laude graduate from the University of Georgia is not going to use ebonics in a professional setting. This person was merely taking the opportunity to express racial animus against a successful black person, and since the "unqualified affirmative action PC hire" route was not available, prarrd just chose another issue to express disdain at the existence of a more successful black person in this integrated society. 

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@dontstereotypemeyo @EdumacateThat @Astropig @prarrd I don't want to engage into a "context" argument.  I just am mentioning that maybe, just maybe, we should also request that teachers speak better English if they will be in the classroom molding the youth.  That is the point I think is worth making... even if it is tangential to this discussion.  It should be noted that I don't think this is a pervasive problem, but when I come across it, I don't find it "cute" or acceptable.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Sounds like she is truly making a difference for her students.....great to see her recognized.  Please keep this up, we need more teachers like her!

eTalker
eTalker

That is really great!  Keep up the good work Ms. Frazier.