IHS teacher finally gets her presidential award ceremony

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Turley won award in 2020, ceremony held last month

It took a couple of years, but Tricia Turley, an algebra teacher at Ironton High School, finally got her Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching ceremony.

It was announced way back in 2019, when she was a teacher for grades 7-12 in Anderson, Alaska, but was already signed up to teach at IHS, that she was a finalist for the award.

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Her superintendent in Alaska presented her a trophy for being one of six finalists in the state.

“I found out through email that I did win,” she said. In the winter of 2020, she found out she had won the national award via email and got her certificate signed by the president in the mail.

But when the time came for the awards ceremony in August 2020, COVID-19 restrictions across the U.S. prevented large gatherings. But the promised three-day, all expenses paid trip to Washington, DC, was delayed until the pandemic ebbed.

She said winning a national teaching award “is kind of funny because I consider myself just a regular teacher. I’m only 12 years into my teaching career, so I look up to so many people and try to continue to be a better and better teacher.

It is such an exciting honor to be recognized for that because I still feel like I have so much room to grow.”

The ironic part of the award was that mathematics was a tough subject for Turley when she was attending Chesapeake schools.

“It’s funny, because math was my most challenging subject all the way through high school,” Turley said. But she says she got strong support from her high school math teacher, Brent Mayo. “I absolutely loved it. I remember being frustrated when I didn’t get it, but when I would finally get it and understand, I was so excited. It was like a puzzle to figure out. It was that feeling of pushing and getting through to the other side, I loved that.”

That feeling of success and accomplishment and the possibility of teaching kids, who like her didn’t understand the concept at first, to succeed was a driver for Turley. “I thought if I could figure out how to break it down to be simpler for me, I could do the same for my students,” Turley said.

She graduated from Chesapeake High School in 2000 and then went to Marshall University and graduated with a B.A., cum laude, in education.

And how did a woman from the Tri-State end up teaching at a small school in the interior of Alaska?

Because of the Northern Lights, among other things.

“It started with adventure and ministry, honestly,” Turley said. She had worked at a church camp in Fairbanks, Alaska, when the was in college. She found out they really needed teachers, specifically math teachers. After graduating from Marshall and a couple of years into her marriage with Daryl Turley, they decided if they were going to go to Alaska, 2007 was the time. They went to seminary outside of Chicago and then headed back to Anderson, Alaska, in 2013.

“The summers were awesome with 24 hours of daylight and I wanted to be able to see the Northern Lights and to feel how really cold it was.”

And it got cold, with overnight temperatures hitting anywhere from -10℉ to -50℉ or more.

“We actually saw it at 60 below once,” Turley said.

The school in Anderson, Alaska, had about 30-40 students from kindergarten to twelfth grade, which presented unique challenges for Turley. With classes that small, she wasn’t teaching just one subject to one class.

“At the time I won the award, I was teaching sixth, seventh and eighth grade. And I was teaching every subject for them except music,” Turley said. “So I was teaching math, language arts, social studies and PE. There were times when I taught kindergarten through fifth grade or kindergarten through second grade. There was time I taught seventh through twelfth grade, all their math and earth science and their PE. It just depended year to year how many students were there and their ages.”

The ceremony and workshops were finally held on May 23-25 in Washington, D.C. and Turley said while her family went sightseeing, she got to meet with all kinds of interesting people.

“It was really cool. They had folks from the National Science foundation there. They had astronauts from NASA and representatives from NASA just sharing a lot of information with us,” Turley said. “They were encouraging us to encourage our students to go into more STEM fields. It was just so cool.”