ETOWAH COUNTY TEACHER HELPS STUDENTS EXCEL
"MONTGOMERY, Ala." The same commitment to discipline and excellence that has gained Stella Gillilan the respect of her students, this month earned the Etowah County English teacher $1,000. As Alfa's Teacher of the Month for March, Mrs. Gillilan joins the ranks of more than 50 outstanding Alabama teachers to be honored by Alfa Insurance Co. and the Alabama Farmers Federation since 1998. For its role in encouraging excellence in teaching, Mrs. Gillilan's school, Sardis High School, also will receive $1,000.
A 25-year veteran of the classroom, Mrs. Gillilan began her career at West End High School in 1977 after graduating from Jacksonville State University. She later earned her master's degree from the University of Alabama. Today, she has the reputation for being a teacher who won't take "I can't" for an answer.
"I work to instill in each child a desire to do his or her best and to accept nothing less," Mrs. Gillilan said. "I do this by refusing to accept the response 'I can't do that,' or 'I'll take a zero; I can still pass without trying the assignment.'"
Mrs. Gillilan said her teaching philosophy often makes new students fear her classes. But according to her principal, many of those same students later come back and thank Mrs. Gillilan for helping prepare them for college and work. That's rewarding, Mrs. Gillilan admits, but the two-time Etowah County Teacher of the Year said it also confirms her belief that she "was created by God to be a teacher."
"I am blessed when I see the light of recognition in the eyes of a child when he or see first understands a poem, essay, story or grammar rule," she said. "The joy I feel when this child achieves a higher level of understanding cannot be expressed in words--only felt in my heart."
Mrs. Gillilan's secret to helping students achieve begins with addressing each student's strengths and weaknesses and then setting goals for improvement. She uses the same approach as coordinator for Sardis High School's High Hopes after-school tutoring program.
Ms. Gillilan's contributions to her school and community, however, are not limited to working with students. She also chaired the school's SACS Steering Committee--which produced a report the reviewer called the "most organized" he had ever seen. Ms. Gillilan also is very active in her church, and she serves as sponsor for two school clubs.
This is Alfa's fifth year as sponsor of the Teacher of the Month program. During the 2002, Alfa will honor one teacher from each of Alabama's eight state school board districts as well as two private school teachers and two principals. Program criteria and application information for the program are available by clicking on "Alfa Teacher of the Month" in the Ag Links section of the Alfa Farmers website, www.alfafarmers.org.