OXFORD, Miss. – For Tyler Shows, teaching fifth grade math students at Petal Upper Elementary School is its own reward.
“Teaching has completely transformed my life in every way,” said Shows, a Petal native and University of Mississippi business school graduate. “It gives my days purpose and meaning.
“I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: If I could choose any job in the world, I would choose the one I already have.”
His commitment to students, creativity in the classroom and leadership throughout the community were celebrated recently when Shows was surprised at Petal Upper Elementary School with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award, presented by the Milken Family Foundation. The presentation came at a schoolwide assembly of cheering students, colleagues, local dignitaries and media.
The awards honor up to 40 elementary educators in the 2022-23 school year. Over the past 35 years, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual awards, has been devoted to the Milken Awards initiative, which includes professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.
“I honestly cannot even remember how I felt when my name was called,” Shows said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in true shock in my life, but I experienced that sensation at the ceremony.
“I remember thinking there must have been some mistake because I teach with a group of all-stars, who all deserve to be recognized.”
Humble Beginnings Before Honor
Born and raised in Petal, Shows grew up in a family that has always believed in education and in UM. His father, Barnard Shows, is a lifelong Ole Miss Rebel and his mother, Georgia Shows, is a Rebel by marriage and a 28-year public school secretary.
“I chose Ole Miss because I felt like it was just in my blood,” he said. “I came home from the hospital in an Ole Miss onesie. It was part of who I was, and it was the natural choice for me.”
Deciding which college to attend may have been a no-brainer, but choosing a career in education did not come as easily for Shows.
“I didn’t always want to be a teacher,” he said. “In fact, my original degree from Ole Miss was in business. I felt so lost in my early 20s, and I was really searching for what would make me happy.
“I know many wonderful people in the business world, but I just couldn’t make that path work for me.”
About a year after graduation, a former coach suggested Shows consider teaching as a career path. Shows was immediately excited by the idea.
“One piece fell into place after another,” he said. “It felt meant to be.”
Inspiration and Innovation
Fifth graders at Petal Upper Elementary School learn to love mathematics, thanks to Shows. The teacher connects math to the real world as he focuses on the concepts underlying each lesson, intentionally building students’ confidence and inspiring them to rise to his high expectations.
“My school family has become more than a second family; they’re just family, plain and simple,” said Shows, who writes on students’ desks with dry-erase markers and incorporates games such as Trashketball, Stinky Feed and Draw Down to keep them engaged. He knows each student’s individual strengths and weaknesses, skillfully bridging their transition from fourth grade and analyzing assessment data to inform next steps for each to succeed.
And they do. Shows’ students achieved 116% of projected growth on the NWEA MAP assessments from fall 2021 to spring 2022. The Petal School District’s fifth graders have delivered among the highest MAP math scores in the state every year since Shows’ arrival in 2014.
Due in part to Shows’ leadership and inspiration, Petal Upper has improved its rating from a D to an A and has maintained that level despite enduring a 2017 tornado and disruption from the pandemic.
Helping Hand Extended
Shows serves as grade-level chair and leads a professional learning community of six math teachers who work to develop standards-aligned lessons, create assessments and track data. He organizes professional development, leads instructional rounds and enables feedback, and mentors both new and pre-service teachers.
“Receiving my National Board Certification was probably the biggest challenge of my life,” said Shows, who also holds a master’s degree in gifted education from William Carey University. “Two years of blood, sweat and tears.”
Shows became a professional learning facilitator to help other educators working toward their certification. To build the teacher recruitment pipeline, he also collaborates with the district’s teacher academy to host high school students interested in pursuing careers in education.
When COVID-19 closed his building, Shows spearheaded the school’s Panthers Online program, offering video tutorials and virtual learning opportunities. The online instruction was so effective that it was extended and repurposed into a lesson study team for the 2021-22 school year.
“Petal Upper Elementary School educators have experienced so many challenges recently, from a tornado in 2017 to the pandemic,” said Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 1994 Indiana Milken Educator. “Thanks to Tyler and so many other incredible teachers, they have found ways to rise above and maintain an excellent learning community for their students.
“Tyler is building a positive legacy of education here in his hometown school district, and for that, we honor him.”
Reflections and Anticipations
Shows’ years of teaching have enabled him to formulate his own philosophy for success.
“My best advice: Never forget what a special job this is,” he said. “Each and every day, I get to care for kids as though they are my own.
“You have such a small window of time with your kids, but the connections you make are more meaningful than you will ever realize and can last for years after they leave your classroom.”
Shows said he has too many memories with his students to single out just one.
“My favorite days are the ones where I am able to hang out with the kids and see them as people, not just students,” he said. “It’s a special, special job.
“One of my favorite traditions each year is the senior walk, where seniors walk through our school in their cap and gowns. I love seeing my fifth graders as grown people who are ready to tackle the next step in their lives.”
By Edwin B. Smith
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Founded in 1848, the University of Mississippi, affectionately known to alumni, students and friends as Ole Miss, is Mississippi's flagship university. Included in the elite group of R-1: Doctoral Universities - Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification, it has a long history of producing leaders in public service, academics and business. With more than 24,000 students, Ole Miss is the state's largest university and is ranked among the nation's fastest-growing institutions.