Special education teacher and College of Education alumnus Marshall Ellson did not know at first that his school administrators had nominated him for the Herzog Foundation Christian Teacher of the Year award.
“Our head of school let me know,” said Ellson who works as director of academic support and K-12 analytics at Westminster Christian Academy in Huntsville, Alabama. “I felt honored because I have high regard for our school leadership. It was rewarding to have earned their respect.”
The Stanley M. Herzog Charitable Foundation, which promotes and supports Christian schools and education, names Christian Teachers of the Year annually and gifts each winner with $5,000 to split for personal use and within their schools along with a trip to the awards gala in Washington, D.C., which Ellson and the 11 other winners attended in the fall.
“These awards are a small token of our appreciation for the amazing Christian teachers all across the nation,” said Herzog Foundation President Darrell Jones.
A phone call from the Missouri-based foundation’s representatives brought Ellson the good news.
“I felt both humbled and honored,” he said. “There are many students who have inspired me along the way. I wanted to win for them and was thrilled because I felt like they won, too.”
Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Ellson graduated from the College of Education, or COE, in 2014 and worked for three years at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee, a private boarding school for students with learning differences. Ellson then relocated to Huntsville to advance his education and take the administrative position at Westminster where he has shared his knowledge of and experience with special education students to help staff better serve them.
“I would like to teach other private schools how to accommodate the needs of all learners,” Ellson said about his short-term career goals. “While I definitely do not have all the answers, I am eager to share what I have experienced, based on successes with students since I started teaching.”
A True Blue road to success
Ellson said the teaching strategies and student-teaching experiences he had at MTSU prepared him to lead his own classroom and now other staff.
“MTSU’s partnership with the Rutherford County Schools Transition Academy, Special Olympics and public schools in the area gave me all of the ‘real world’ experiences any aspiring educator would need,” he said.
Ellson also credited the diverse and unique perspectives of his classmates and MTSU’s faculty for his success.
“One of my classmates had a passion for assisting students who were visually impaired, and I witnessed his creativity and work ethic,” he said. “He was just one of many with whom I collaborated, and I learned from so many of them.”
Ellson called the guidance and expertise of his main special education professor, Tom Black, “invaluable.”
“He was always willing to have open conversations, and I felt comfortable sharing my ideas,” Ellson said. “He and I had good conversations about how to change special education, and I hope I’ve started to do that here.”
Black said Ellson was an excellent student.
“Marshall was very driven to be successful, so I’m not surprised by his success as a teacher.”
Black said the COE’s philosophy of valuing teaching as a noble profession combined with its student teaching experiences have helped produce numerous award-winning graduates.
“Our teaching faculty have been in the field as teachers themselves,” he said. “Our faculty and students are engaged in the community and have positive relationships with area schools, principals, teachers, students and their families. Many of our students are hired by local schools directly after graduating, and we are serious about them having a successful career, continuing to support and work with them as teachers and professionals in their own schools and communities.”
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)