Home of Heroes
Fort Polk Progress, as part of its Education Initiative, recognizes Lanette Nolen as the 2014 Elementary Teacher of the Year.
For the past 16 years, Nolen has been teaching in the classroom where she spent her own first grade. The Vernon Parish native came home to Rosepine to be a kindergarten teacher and has been teaching children in there ever since.
'It’s pretty much the same school I attended,' she said. 'My parents went to school here and so did my husband of 22 years, Burley and my three boys, Braden, Tusten and Gavin.'
Nolen says that teaching has been her lifelong dream and that kindergarten was the only grade she wanted to teach.
'I always knew I wanted to be a mom, and I thought that teaching was a great profession for a mom. When I completed school I waited for a position to open up in kindergarten. I had no desire to teach any other grade. I have only taught at Rosepine and I have only taught kindergarten. I am meant to be to be with the younger children. I believe that working with them is my gift. It takes a certain type of person with certain skills to teach these kids.'
Being a native of the area, Nolen has had the experience of impacting the lives of the children of many of her friends and former classmates. She is looking forward to the day when she teaches the children of some former students.
'I have taught the children of some people I have known all my life. My first class graduated from high school in 2012. I anticipate that one day I will be teaching their children. My niece was in that class and she has a one year old child. They will be here eventually.'
Nolen is a part of the community and an integral part of the education system in the parish.
'I am dedicated to my work and my students,' Nolen said. 'I give my job 110 percent. I do whatever I have to do to make sure my students are successful, and I do a lot of extra work to make sure that I am successful.'
Over the past years the demands of her job have changed considerably. Nolen says some of the changes that have occurred have been extremely helpful to the students in her classroom.
'Our curriculum is more rigorous and demanding,' she said. 'We are required to teach five-year-olds twice as many words in kindergarten today than we did when I started. But the children are more verbal and tech savvy which contributes to their vocabulary and general knowledge. I want my five-year-olds to grow as much as possible during their time with me. I want them to leave kindergarten knowing how to be independent readers and writers, acknowledge numbers and the alphabet and have the socialization skills needed to become the best students they can become.'
Nolen embodies dedication by pursuing excellence in the classroom and the community.
'I am fair, consistent and I have high expectations for me and my students,' she said
Rhonda Morrison, a 28-year veteran teacher in Vernon Parish, is the 2014 Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Morrison, a graduate of Leesville Junior High School and Leesville High School, has spent her entire career as a social studies teacher at Leesville Junior High.
'When I was a senior I thought that I wanted to teach,' said Morrison. 'I loved history. Since the seventh grade I just wanted to be a history teacher. When I went to college I just fell in love with history all over again.'
When asked why she was chosen as teacher of the year, Morrison characteristically minimized the achievement.
'I don’t think that I’m a better teacher than anybody else,' Morrison said. 'I think I was selected because I stuck with it for 29 years. I do like what I am doing. You have to have a passion for what you are doing.'
Morrison, who teaches two honors classes, said she has found her niche teaching her current students because she knows what they are experiencing in their transition from children to young adults.
'I love junior high school,' she said. 'I was an awkward child at this age. I was tall and skinny and I know what children this age are going through.'
Teaching history and social studies to children who usually come to her not liking the subject matter is a challenge, she said, but she has learned to bring the material to life by utilizing items from contemporary popular culture to illustrate history.
'I’m a story teller rather than a history teacher,' she said. 'I always attempt to integrate contemporary events and even movies into my lessons so the children can relate to the subject. Over the years I have used many movies. This year I suggested the students asked their parents to show them ‘12 Years a Slave’ for example. Not only is it a historical account of slavery, it took place here in Louisiana.'
Morrison said her philosophy about teaching is relatively simple.
'The joy of teaching is not about giving out good grades, it’s about helping each student achieve their best,' she said.
Being a native of the area and a product of the school district has some distinct advantages also as she often encounters her former students.
'One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is when I encounter former students,' she said.
'They tell me that I was ‘so hard’ and I made them ‘take notes.’ They thank me because I prepared them for the study habits they needed in college.'
As a seasoned professional, Morrison, whose husband Steve and children Matthew and Logan all graduated from Leesville High School, likes to take time to mentor the younger teachers at her school.
'There are six or seven teachers now at Leesville Junior High that I taught. They often come to me to ask my advice.'
After 25 years of total service, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Williams retired from the US Army in 2011. His career concluded at Fort Polk as the Chief of Staff of JRTC and Ft. Polk and the Installation Command Inspector General. He is currently employed by Cubic Applications as an instructor at the Joint Readiness Training Center’s Leader Training Program. He is currently the Chairman for the Military Affairs Committee for the Greater Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce a life member of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and has received numerous awards and decorations, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, and five Meritorious Service Medals.