Teaching math is more than just lesson plans and homework to Commerce High School teacher Tommy Palmer. To him, it’s a way to connect with his students and hopefully make a difference in their lives.
Palmer is the 2022-23 Teacher of the Year for Commerce High School and the Commerce City School System.
Teaching is a second career for Palmer, who was raised in nearby Nicholson.
He first studied computer science at Gainesville College, but later transferred to Southern Polytechnic University to pursue a degree and career in electrical engineering. Palmer was working at as plant manager at a plastics company and was sometimes putting in 100 hours a week. He and his wife, Jenny, who also teaches at CHS, had two young children at the time and Palmer was missing out on seeing them grow up.
“I left being an engineer so I could spend more time with my family,” he said. “My position as a plant manager required 13-to-15-hour days, 7 days a week, and it didn’t allow me the family time that I wanted. I had to decide whether I was going to raise my kids or let someone else, and that was the easiest decision I’ve made. Yes, I miss parts of working in engineering, but the rewards of being a teacher, far exceed the engineering world. Education has also provided me the opportunity to be on the same schedule as my kids and wife.”
Palmer began his teaching career in 2006 at Jackson County Comprehensive High School. He taught for two years under a provisional certificate while he was getting his master’s degree. Palmer also taught at East Jackson Comprehensive High School before coming to Commerce two years ago. Palmer said he loves the family-feel within the Commerce school system.
“It’s easy to enjoy it. It’s easy to do this job because there’s so much of a family feel,” he said.
The school system, and the community, have made an impact on Palmer.
“Commerce is the best kept secret in the education world, in my opinion,” Palmer said. “From the superintendent to the principals, staff, lunchroom ladies, support personnel, and custodians, Commerce makes you feel that you are part of a family. I told my wife for 6 months straight when we would turn right on to main street from Hwy. 98 every morning, that this was the best decision we’ve ever made and that we should have done it sooner. I graduated as a Panther from high school, but I will forever be a Tiger.”
Palmer said he enjoys teaching math, but his favorite part of the job is getting to know his students. He tries to make it to as many of his students’ extracurricular activities as he can.
“How would I expect them to show up and participate in my classroom if I can’t show up and watch them participate in whatever they’re doing,” he said.
Palmer hopes he’s making a positive impact on all of the students who enter his classroom.
“Every opportunity that you have to make a difference in a kid’s life, you’re changing their trajectory for the better,” he said.
He also tries to keep up with past students’ successes via social media.
“I was part of their journey and hopefully I made a difference in their lives to make them more successful,” he said.
Palmer is also an adjunct instructor at Athens Tech and Young Harris College. He says he started teaching at the college level so he could see what his high school students needed to learn for the next level.
“I’m not teaching them just to get through high school,” he said.
That dedication to his students doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Math teachers are difficult to find. Our system hit the jackpot with Tommy Palmer,” said superintendent Joy Tolbert. “Mr. Palmer showcases the three R's in education- Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. During classroom observations, it is obvious that he challenges his students with the math content. However, he also takes the time to explain the ‘why’ to students so they understand how learning math is relevant to real-life. Last, but most importantly, Tommy Palmer shows on a daily basis that he understands the importance of building relationships with students.
“Though Mr. Palmer has taught at CHS for only a few years, he is married to a true CHS Tiger, Jenny Palmer. Jenny and Tommy support students in and out of the classroom. If CHS students are participating in an event, The Palmers will be there to show their support of our students. Our system is blessed to have Tommy Palmer represent Commerce at the state level as our System Teacher of the Year.”
Palmer has had a number of teachers who have influenced him over the years. During high school, his English teacher Mr. Sheridan played a big role, along with Miles Adams and Helen Adams. One of his professors at Gainesville College, Ms. Elrod, also played a big role.
“Ms. Elrod taught me math, but she also taught me to learn,” Palmer said. “She made me ‘know what I know, know what I don’t know, and get my unknowns known.’ That was when the light bulb turned on for me in math. She made me write down every step and wanted to know any place along the process that confused me. If you were a fellow student with me in high school, you know I struggled in math. When I say struggled, I really struggled, but her approach changed everything about my learning of math.”
Palmer says another one of his professors, Dr. Angela Brown at Piedmont College, is the reason he graduated with a teaching degree.
“I came from the world of engineering where everything right or wrong with no gray area,” he said. “This is not so in the education world, so I struggled in my first education classes. I struggled so much that at week 12 of a 16-week class, I was ready to give up and go back to the engineering world. Dr. Brown allowed me to vent my frustrations and worked hard to make sure that this engineer understood that there are multiple ways to teach kids to become critical thinkers. She is, to this day, a mentor, friend and colleague. I often reach out to her for direction and advice in education.”
When Palmer isn’t teaching, he enjoys traveling with his family. He has visited 47 states and hopes to visit the remaining three —Washington, Oregon and North Dakota — eithin the next two years.
OTHER COMMERCE TEACHERS OF THE YEAR
CMS — Becky Duke
Becky Duke was honored as teacher of the year for Commerce Middle School.
Duke graduated from Commerce High School in 1990. She received her bachelor of science degree in middle grades education (language arts/social science) from the University of Georgia. She also earned her master of education degree in early childhood from the University of Georgia.
Duke has 28 years of teaching experience. She has taught 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grades. This year is her 13th year teaching in the Commerce City School System.
She is married to Doug Duke and they have two children, Reagan, 18, and Grayson, 12. As a family, they enjoy having time with parents and grandparents and extended family that includes twin great nieces and a great nephew.
CES — Jenna Hall
Jenna Hall was named teacher of the year for Commerce Elementary School
Hall earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Georgia Southern University in 2017. She earned her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Valdosta State University in 2020.
Currently, Hall is the music teacher at Commerce Primary and Commerce Elementary. She teaches PreK-4th grade, and she loves the wide range of ages that she has the opportunity to work with each day. In 2018, she married her husband, Taylor. They moved to Commerce in 2021 and are expecting their first baby, which is a boy, in February of 2023. In her spare time, Hall enjoys playing with her two dogs, Tuck and Ellie, and spending time on Lake Hartwell with her family.
CPS — Beverly Sailers
Beverly Sailers was named teacher of the year for Commerce Primary School.
Sailers received her bachelor of science degree in early childhood education from Piedmont College in 2009. In 2011, she completed her master of science degree in education from Walden University. She has taught third grade EIP, fourth grade, kindergarten and second grade. She currently teaches second grade at Commerce Primary.
Sailers is married to Michael Sailers and they have six children (5 girls and 1 boy) Carlee, Emma Julia, Peyton, Maggie, Emerson and Gauge. Outside of school, Sailers enjoys spending time with her family and being on the go constantly with six active children.