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Staff Focus, Tracy Spillman, Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher, Lime Kiln Middle School

March 6th, 2018

Lime Kiln Middle School Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher Tracy Spillman uses her energy and creativity to connect student’s passions to engaging and effective learning experiences.

Originally from Prince George’s County, Tracy Spillman began her teaching career at a Prince George’s elementary school. She was convinced by her then principal to look into and apply to teach in Howard County.

“He said it was a growing school system with a strong network of teachers and that the families were very concerned with their children’s education. He said it was a really nice place for your children to grow and learn. He was right,” Spillman explains. She has two children currently attending Howard County schools.

Her first position in Howard County was as a fifth grade teacher at Bollman Bridge Elementary School. Wanting to try something new, Spillman moved to Clarksville Middle School where she taught seventh grade. In 1999, when Lime Kiln Middle School opened, Spillman moved over and became a seventh grade English teacher and the seventh grade interdisciplinary team leader. In 2005, she transitioned to the Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher position. In 2009, Spillman was recognized as Washington Post’s Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award for Howard County.

“It is the most rewarding job I’ve had in my 31 years but it also keeps you on your toes. The students’ passions dictate the instructional seminars I offer,” Spillman says.

In her very first year, students came to her wanting to start a rocketry seminar. Spillman’s background in teaching English didn’t stop her. She used her creativity and energy to engage her students and the school community to develop a seminar rich in information and opportunities for her students.

“I had a great parent that was involved and we would meet Wednesday nights. This group of students placed in the top 10 in the United States,” Spillman says.

This is just one example of Spillman learning all she can about a subject so she can effectively teach her students. Following her students’ passion for photography, she took online courses during the summer and read anything about photography she could get her hands on. She became knowledgeable enough to put together a series of lessons on basic photography techniques such as the rule of thirds and filling the frame. She was so successful that she had to start an advanced photography seminar that delves into using shadow and lighting and other more advanced techniques.

The list goes on. “I didn’t have a lot of background in the sciences, and now I’m co-coaching the Science Olympiad team in 23 events ranging from anatomy and physiology to engineering. I have an environmental group of 42 students who created a bluebird trail and a butterfly garden. I have three groups of students very involved in filmmaking, one of which works with grad students at American University. I never get bored. It’s fun and the kids have a great time.”

Although she is a resource teacher for gifted and talented students, her efforts give students of all abilities learning opportunities. “The most rewarding thing is that a lot of the students are not in GT. It’s open to any student in the school. I take them a little bit beyond exploration. It’s giving students access to different opportunities that they normally wouldn’t have.”

Part of Spillman’s motivation is based on empathy. “When I see someone struggling or not having good day, I just want to find out why and help them. I want to create that moment for kids when they find something they’re interested in and passionate about and they feel good about themselves. It’s the students who motivate me.”

“Tracy works tirelessly to ensure that all students have exposure to rigorous instruction and experiences in and out of the classroom. She often gives time on her evenings and weekends so that students may participate in Science Olympiad, National History Day, Green School initiatives, and many others. Her strong relationships with students and their families have contributed to the thriving GT program at Lime Kiln Middle School,” says Lime Kiln Middle School Principal Lucy Lublin.

Spillman is one of the few remaining original staff members at Lime Kiln Middle School. “I truly feel like this is home. I opened this school, which was exciting but a lot of hard work. It has always felt like since that first day when we toured the building and we had to wear hard hats. It’s just such a nice, caring, supportive community. I feel lucky to be in a school like this and have the opportunity to work with the students I do.”