There has always been a touch of destiny with Darrian Tanner.
A high school teacher in Kissimmee, Fla., Tanner has had a long journey to become a Spartan educator. Her hard work paid off in March 2017 when she received a Florida High Impact Teacher award. The award celebrates educators across the state who have helped make significant improvements in their students’ math and reading scores.
She was floored that this statewide recognition was being given—but then again, she had almost seen it coming.
Many years ago, she had been taught the value of writing down her dreams and goals by her mentor, Stacia Pierce. In early 2017, looking at where she wanted to go next in her career, Tanner envisioned earning recognition for her teaching.
“I often wrote down and visualized myself in the classroom teaching, when all of a sudden the administration would walk in and present me with an award from the school,” she said. “When the district members and administration came into my classroom, and I saw the plaque in the board member’s hand, I immediately started crying because it seemed quite ‘familiar’—just like what I envisioned. But I didn’t expect it to be this type of award. I didn’t think I’d be one of the highest [teachers] in the state—I was so excited.”
Rising to the challenge
In 2013, Tanner was given the opportunity to teach either an advanced English class or an English Language Arts and Reading (ELA-R) class. No one had wanted to teach the ELA-R class, as the students were struggling with literacy and many had failed state testing in the ninth grade.
But with everything she does, Tanner rose to the challenge, and began teaching the 10th grade students.
In state exam scores of her students from 2013-16, the result of Tanner’s hard work was clear: the reading scores of her students were skyrocketing. Some students jumped from grade school reading levels to high school levels.
It was these changes that led her to receive the award, presented by her school district and the Florida Department of Education. The award, which compares growth and changes in students year to year, began in the state last year and celebrates math and reading teachers.
Of the more than 130 teachers at Liberty High School, where Tanner has been teaching for six years, she was the only one to be recognized with the honor this year.
For Tanner’s principal, Evelith Olmeda-Garcia, the award was presented to a deserving teacher.
“She brings to the team a lot of compassion, passion and legitimate interest in her students,” Olmeda-Garcia said. “She is a great mentor for students who are struggling. She is a great asset to my school.” Olmeda-Garcia also recognized how Tanner goes above and beyond for her students: volunteering her time, bringing in inspirational speakers and being a guide to students who need extra encouragement.
The recognition and the support from her colleagues, the district and the state is a validation for Tanner.
“I always knew I wanted to teach, but it confirmed I am where I am supposed to be,” she said. “It confirmed that I’m on the right track and that I made the right choice. All of the things I had to do to fight for those dreams was worth it.”
Though Tanner and her twin sister were raised in East St. Louis, Ill. their dreams reached beyond state lines.
In 2000, as the sisters struggled over where they should go to college, they looked at acceptance letters from across the country. Wanting to push off making their decision, they put all the letters away.
When they woke up the next morning, the only letter that remained outside of the box was the one from Michigan State University, a school that hadn’t even been that high on their list.
The sisters considered it a sign, and came to MSU.
It was perfect: Tanner’s parents had motivated her to become a teacher, and at MSU, she could enroll in a college ranked among the best in the nation. Tanner started her freshman year as an English major, with her goal to one day become a Spartan teacher.
However, getting into the college could have been challenging with her GPA among others applying to the college, so she changed her plans and graduated from MSU in 2004 with a B.A. in English.
But the pull to be a teacher was strong, and so she applied to get into the college in 2006. As part of the application, she wrote an essay about losing her mother before her sophomore year at MSU, and how her parents were a guiding motivation in her life.
On her first try, she got in.
The rest is history—and MSU is still a central tenet of Tanner’s teaching today.
“MSU taught me was collaborative learning and group work,” Tanner said. “I based my whole classroom career on those types of approaches; they are the same methods I used to help my students learn authentically and prepare for the state tests.
“It is what has gotten me a lot of success,” she added. “I thank God for this journey and what’s to come.”
Tanner is also a self-published author. Her book, “Finally Some Answers: 50 Classroom Solutions for the Secondary Ed Teacher” she gives insight and implementation strategies to questions from educators around the world.