A third-grade teacher at Montclair Elementary School has been named Escambia County’s Teacher of the Year.
“I’ve always just naturally wanted to teach,” said Briana McCreary, and she has been doing just that, teaching, for as long as she can remember. “Whether it was teaching my teddy bears, my baby dolls, upgraded to my younger cousins, I teach dance through praise dances with my church, any opportunity. Vacation bible school, I was always trying to lead and teach somebody something.”
Back when she was attending Tate High School, McCreary participated in the early Childhood Academy which solidified her drive to become a teacher. But even before that, she says found some roles models who guided her to education.
“My third-grade teacher at Molino Elementary School, Mrs. Josie, she was very fun," said McCreary. "She was very lively, and that is definitely the energy that I mimic in my class. She recognized some of the strengths that I have, and she really promoted them and pushed those skills. She would give me some of the discarded teacher’s manuals in student editions, and those were some of the materials I was using at home when I was teaching family members and things like that. And also she would give me opportunities in class. I was able to lead some of the math fluency activities with multiplication, and she let me lead group activities and stuff like that. And that’s another one of those skills that I kind of mimic from her.”
The road to McCreary’s teaching career started at Pensacola State College where she earned an associate degree in early childhood education. From there it was Florida A&M for her bachelor’s and the University of West Florida for her master’s in educational leadership. She credits her mother for mapping out that plan.
“It actually wasn’t my plan," she said. "I would have preferred to go straight off to college, but my mom felt it would be best to start at the state college level. And I really feel that now that I’m an adult and I’m aware of everything, it really was the best (choice). Classes were smaller, it’s more intimate, you’re more hands-on with the professors because of the smaller (class size), and you’re able to really focus on those first few years. And that’s the time that you are using to mature.”
McCreary became a teacher in 2013 and has taught kindergarten and second grades. Now she teaches third grade in a pandemic. She says when things shut down last spring it was initially nerve wracking.
“But when I recognized that the parents were still motivated and driven to do whatever it took for their students to learn I (thought) ‘okay.’ And then I saw that the kids, they knew how to navigate through all the (computer education) programs, they knew how to manipulate the screen and all of the tabs and windows. I mean it was awesome. So that encouraged me (to think), I can still give them quality instruction and not try to minimize it because I’m not face-to-face with them."
"At first, initially, I was afraid. But then when I saw the students’ capabilities and I saw the parents were involved and they were calling and we were talking constantly I knew that, yes, this is definitely something that we’re going to commit to and we are going to be able to do it. So knowing that the parents were supportive on their end made that transition a lot smoother, I won’t say ‘easy’ because it’s just been a hectic year. But it made it a lot smoother.”
McCreary found out she was named the Escambia Teacher of the Year when Superintendent Timothy Smith showed up at her classroom with flowers and the announcement. She will represent Escambia County at the state level and will have opportunities to network with Florida’s top educators as they compete for teacher of the year.
“We’re praying and just continuing to hope for the best and that’s the next step, the state level," she said. "We’ll see how that works as ambassador of education.”
That selection will be announced this summer.