KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — An administrator at Austin-East Magnet High School in Knoxville has been named National University’s Teacher of the Year and awarded a $50,000 grand prize for her exceptional dedication to supporting students and the community.

National University, a nonprofit organization that provides educational opportunities and resources to teachers, has named Austin-East administrator Melody Hawkins the 2021 NU Teacher of the Year.

Hawkins will receive a $50,000 grand prize as the national winner. She was selected for the honor ahead of four regional winners from across the country who will receive gifts of $10,000 and a full-tuition scholarship toward National University’s Master of Arts in Social and Emotional Learning.

“Ms. Hawkins and all of our regional winners rose above the challenges posed by a global pandemic and widespread trauma and used these challenges as an opportunity to grow as educators and create new, engaging learning opportunities for their students.”

National University Teacher Award announcement

The official announcement said Hawkins is known for dedicating her time to supporting students, helping them overcome negative stereotypes and to excel beyond all expectations. Before she was recently promoted to assistant administrator, one of her eighth-grade science classes at Vine Middle School won a national competition to have an experiment they designed carried out by NASA in outer space.

“I think of the responsibility that I have for developing my students into positive contributors to our society. At the core of this responsibility lies my ‘why,’ which motivates every instructional strategy that I use with my students. My ‘why’ has been fueled by this belief: all students deserve high-quality, equitable education. I am clear with my students about my ‘why’ as their teacher and encourage them to also believe that they deserve a high-quality education. The ‘how’ then becomes the success criteria, rubric, and instructions of which I provide for completing the challenging task.”

Melody Hawkins, National University Teacher of the Year

The official announcement was made Tuesday on the Drew Barrymore Show. The episode aired Feb. 16 on WATE.

“She has helped to really … elevate, in some areas, the thinking and the expectations for what we believe and know that our kids are capable of doing. And she is a walking, shining example of what possibilities are.”

Austin-East Magnet High School Principal Tammi Campbell