Northside Middle School co-teaching team wins national award

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 9:55 PM EDT
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ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Amber Benson and Ruby Voss started at Northside Middle School in 2017. That’s where they paired up as a co-teaching 8th grade math team. Since then, they’ve truly been inseparable inside the classroom and outside it.

“We are just about at the point where we finish each other’s sentences,” said Benson.

“We dress alike every day,” said Voss.

Tuesday, Benson and Voss were recognized for their work by the Association for Middle Level Education. They received the National Educator of the Year Award.

“It’s incredible. We love what we do and we know that teaching 8th grade math is not for everybody,” said Benson.

Benson and Voss were surrounded by their colleagues and Northside Middle School and Roanoke County Public Schools leaders at the event. But they also heard from parents and former students they’ve left a mark on.

“That’s the absolute best. When we can establish relationships with our parents and our kids and that’s how we get them to do math, is the first two days of class we don’t even do math; we do team building, we do family building and once we do that, once they trust us, that’s all we need,” said Voss.

But it’s clear as a co-teaching team, they love being able to give each of their students 100%.

”We always tell people it’s not like you get 50% Benson and 50% Voss, you get 100 from both of us, it just makes us even better and a more powerful team,” said Benson.

The dynamic duo will also be recognized and give some tips on co-teaching at the 49th Annual Conference for Middle Level Education in Orlando in November.

You can find the full release for the announcement from AMLE below:

“Amber Benson and Ruby Voss, an 8th grade math co-teaching team at Northside Middle School in Roanoke Virginia, are the recipients of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) Educator of the Year Award. The award, which will be presented this November during the 49th Annual Conference for Middle Level Education, recognizes outstanding educators who have made a significant impact in middle level education and on the lives of students aged 10-15 through leadership, vision, and advocacy. “I can’t think of two educators who better highlight what’s so special about the middle grades,” said Stephanie Simpson, CEO of AMLE. “They really get what’s going on with these kids during this critical developmental time, and you can see the positive impact they’ve made on not just their students but the entire school community.”

While each has more than a decade of teaching experience individually, Benson and Voss say their teaching practices really took off when they were paired as co-teachers in 2017. Key to their success is a truly collaborative approach that integrates data-based instruction and a focus on building positive relationships with their students. “For me when I think of Ruby and Amber it’s how they build a family atmosphere in their classroom. It’s truly remarkable. The kids are authentically engaged in the lesson every day and they want to work for them,” said Dr. Paul Lineburg, Principal of Northside Middle School.

A hallmark of the Benson and Voss classroom is the engaging learning activities that help students connect math concepts to the real world around them. On any given day, you might find their students outside on bouncing balls to learn about graphing inequalities, or in the principal’s office searching for angles. “Amber Benson and Ruby Voss exemplify the best in engaging and purposeful teaching and, especially, working with middle schoolers.” says Ken Nicely, Superintendent of Roanoke County Public Schools, “Every time I visit their class, I am amazed how they can get any and all students to become excited about learning math and gain confidence in themselves as learners.”

Benson and Voss see the 8th grade year as a critical time to “interrupt” students who may be on the wrong path before they get to high school. Voss explains, “We tell students, alright, we’re at that fork in the road. If you’re on the right path we’re going to give you the tools to keep that up. But if you haven’t, if you’re ready to change, we’re going to help you change that trajectory.” Their impact hasn’t gone unnoticed by parents. “When you see them out it’s not just a polite hello,” say parents David and Debbie Early, “They’re genuinely interested in how their kids are doing and how they’re continuing to progress.”

While proof of their success can be found in their state testing results, fellow teacher Lynae Young says their impact goes way beyond that, “They’re preparing them for algebra, they’re preparing them for geometry, they’re preparing them for life.” The duo are grateful to their colleagues and school leaders, who they say are ever supportive of their innovative, albeit sometimes unconventional, approaches.

Important to both Benson and Voss is sharing their most successful practices with their colleagues, both within their building and at local and national conferences. “We believe in public school education,” they say, “and we believe that together, there is nothing that we cannot achieve and nothing that we cannot help others achieve.”

Benson and Voss will be recognized at and present on their approach to co-teaching at #AMLE22: The 49th Annual Conference for Middle Level Education this November in Orlando, Florida.”