Tori Haddon

Tori Haddon teaches English to high school students at North New Summit School. She says she likes the small class sizes at New Summit because they allow her to tailor students’ instruction to their individual needs.

Tori Haddon has been teaching at North New Summit School since 2007, and she says she never stops learning on the job.

“You always learn,” said Haddon, who teaches English to students from grades 9 through 12. “You always learn more about people; you learn more about kids; you learn more about how to teach or ways to respond to things.”

Haddon, 37, was born in Greenwood and lived in several towns in the area growing up. She attended East Elementary, Cruger-Tchula Academy, Carroll Academy and J.Z. George High School before graduating from George in 2000.

She once wanted to be an anesthesiologist but shifted her focus to education after having her first child. She studied education at Holmes Community College in Grenada before earning her degree from Delta State University in 2006.

She chose education out of a desire to spend time with her daughter, but it’s turned out to be the right decision for other reasons, too.

“It was really a blessing, because this is exactly where I need to be,” said Haddon, who won an Excellence in Education award from the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce in 2010. “I feel like I do a good job.”

She did her student teaching for a semester at J.Z. George. Since she was working with some of the same people who had taught her only a few years earlier, it took some time to adjust to seeing them as peers. She gained a new perspective about the work and about earning the students’ respect.

“As a student, especially since I attended the school, you assume that teaching is easy — ‘It’s an easy job’ — and you think you have it all figured out in your head, when it’s a totally different scenario being the teacher,” she said.

After college, she taught fourth grade at Davis Elementary for a year before joining New Summit and finding that high school was her niche. It helped that she was comfortable with the school’s director, Susan Floyd, who had taught her seventh-grade math at Cruger-Tchula Academy.

Haddon said she likes that New Summit has stayed committed to small classes even as it has grown. She teaches five classes that range from six to 12 students, and the school ensures that they don’t get larger than that.

This approach makes a difference, and it’s been rewarding to see how it has helped some students who transferred in after struggling at other schools, she said. Some who came to New Summit shy and intimidated are now volunteering to read aloud in front of the class and answer questions, she said.

“Their confidence builds; their grades improve; the parents start calling up, and they’re like, ‘My child doesn’t hate school anymore,’” she said.

Over the years, she has learned the  importance of listening to students and not judging them based on their past.

“A lot of times, if they feel cared about, like you genuinely care about them, they give it right back. They work harder. They do better,” she said. “It’s amazing what different students will give you when nobody else gave them the chance to do it.”

When not at school, Haddon enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her husband, Dustin, and three daughters: Madison, 20, a junior at Delta State, and Presley, 10, and Harper, 7, who attend Carroll Academy.

She loves planning family trips, especially to the beach — Jamaica, Mexico and the Bahamas with her husband and Florida locations with her daughters.

She said Madison, a New Summit graduate whom she taught there for several years, wants to go into art education and hopes to work at New Summit someday. Madison hasn’t asked her a lot of questions about her career path, other than some inquiries about class selection, but she believes her daughter has a bright future in the field.

As for her own future, Haddon said she can’t predict where she’ll be years from now but likes what she’s doing.

“Right now, I’m very satisfied being here at this school,” she said. “I feel like as long as I’m teaching, this is where I want to be.”

Contact David Monroe at 581-7236 or dmonroe@gwcommonwealth.com.

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