Bridget Burris: One Teacher's Journey

“My life story has been jumbled, scattered, and complicated. I wasn’t encouraged to have this dream of being a teacher, didn’t walk around with a pretend attendance book calling roll, and wasn’t pruned for college prep courses. My profession single handedly saved me from a vicious cycle of poverty, drugs, and self-destruction.  We borrowed money for food most weeks and being able to afford a field trip was out of the question for us.”

Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald presents the 2011 Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award to Mrs. Bridget C. Burris, 2nd grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School.

The 2011 Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award winner has experienced the ups and downs of life personally and yet those around her are amazed by the strength, trust, hope and endurance she consistently demonstrates. Superiors, colleagues and parents note these characteristics: enthusiastic, articulate, caring, encouraging, hard-working, selfless, cooperative, striving for constant improvement, community-minded, strong faith and values, maintains high expectations for herself and her students.

This year’s recipient is Bridget Burris - a 2nd Grade Teacher at Oak Grove Elementary.  Mrs. Burris has her feet firmly planted as an elementary school teacher but previously worked as a mental health counselor, a Dept. of Children’s Services social worker and a State Day Care licensing counselor. 

Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald Noted that “just like the Award’s namesake—my mother and career teacher—Mrs. Burris demonstrates a passion for her students through her ability to teach and inspire them with a love of learning.”

This passion for her profession is reflected as follows:  “Teaching is my box of surprises that I get to unwrap daily. The best part is that it’s a lifelong gift.  My journey as a teacher has not always been joyous or easy but I consider it a sweet privilege that I would not trade for any corporate position at a famous firm. I look into these innocent faces and know no matter what kind of day I am having they can see my good. These students have loved me through pain, happiness, sadness and yes… MADNESS! I’ve lost loved ones, journeyed with my own child through an indescribable illness and battled trials that I didn’t think I could overcome. I did this while receiving hugs, kisses, and smiles from students who needed me and through it all learned how much I needed them! I wake up each day thinking of my students and go to bed each night saying a prayer for them. I pray they see their value in this world as I came to see my own!”

Getting an education was not easy for this recipient. She strived to get a college degree with no monetary support from anyone but herself. Starting at Cleveland State, she maintained a very high GPA while working three jobs – 3rd shift work at a local factory, wait person at the Rebel restaurant, and at a local dry cleaner. She continued to work full time at UTK at a day care where she graduated with a B. S. in Human Ecology with specialization in Child Development. She received her teacher licensure from Lee University and a Master of Education in Educational Administration and Supervision from Lincoln Memorial. 

A dedicated community worker, Bridgett Burris has worked on many projects ranging from tornado relief, Christmas toy drives, and family bereavement fundraisers. When co-workers have lost loved ones, she has cooked dinner at their homes, cared for their children, cleaned their houses, raised money to cover a funeral and burial for school family, sacrificed Thanksgiving with her own family to deliver meals to school families, taken bags of toys on Christmas Eve to those in need and still prepared food for the Relay for Life on the day she attended her father-in-law’s funeral.

At her school, she designed and made school play costumes and helped with dress rehearsals while conducting after-school tutoring for students including special activities for the academically talented. She has served on school leadership committees and spelling, math, and social studies textbook committees. She has served as rehearsal coach for five years for school plays, served on Education Family Committee with Bradley/Cleveland Public Education Foundation, Red Clay Reading Council, SACS, grade group chairperson, and Advisory Board for the Director of Schools. She has written and received 7 grants from the Public Education Foundation.

Recognitions she has received include Teachers of the Month Awards, Teacher of the Month Award from WCLE, and “HOPE” award winner for Relay for Life.

Committed to the community in which she lives, she and her husband have started a children’s church program where they attend, teach Sunday school, and have been the directors of the church nursery program. They have served as president of their neighborhood association for 10 years, creating Neighborhood Watch programs, and hosting annual parties for neighborhood children.

Nominations for this recipient came from superiors, co-workers, parents, students, family members, and the cleaning lady at her school. Clearly Mrs. Burris is a role model demonstrating to students and peers alike that it is possible to face the difficulties of life while portraying strength, courage, determination and persistence while achieving personal goals.