Tina McNally likes hands-on exercises: she's had students calculate average speed by tracking live superworms and learn the difference between physical and chemical changes by making s'mores over their Bunsen burners. Bowling with golf balls facilitated a lesson on Newton's laws.
"Because she knows her students well, she designs activities that grab the students’ attention. She is exceptionally creative and builds activities from scratch. The data from her classroom speaks for itself."
— JAMES RUSSELL, late Flagler Palm Coast High School principal
"In 30 years of education, I have only seen only a handful of teachers with a combination of skill sets that she possesses," the late James Russell, FPC's principal until his death in December, wrote in his letter of reference for McNally's Teacher of the Year application. "... Because she knows her students well, she designs activities that grab the students’ attention. She is exceptionally creative and builds activities from scratch. The data from her classroom speaks for itself."
She also shares the activities she creates with her colleagues.
"Why? Because she knows all students will ultimately benefit," Russell wrote. "She is a teacher pollinator of sorts, and her peers blossom when they work with her."
Each year, McNally wrote in her Teacher of the Year application statement, she is driven to find what she refers to as each student's "it."
"I notice my students all have a mystery, something that needs to be uncovered," she wrote. "What is the 'it' my student needs to engage in learning?"
Early in her teaching career, McNally wrote, she'd been challenged by a student's behavior, but knew that the boy had a great relationship with one of the school's deans. She sought the dean's advice.
"The dean said to me, 'With [the student], he needs to know you see him. He expresses himself through his fashion, so maybe if you try complimenting him on his shoes, it might help.'" She did, and the compliment led to a conversation, which led to a connection that helped the student learn.
"I learned the importance of appreciating student individuality," McNally wrote. "It's not always as easy as noticing shoes, but finding the 'it' is such a rewarding experience for both me and the student."
McNally earned her bachelor's in horticulture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and began her career as an agricultural extension agent, then stayed home to raise her own children before returning to the workforce as a substitute teacher for Flagler Schools in 2016. She was hired later the same year as a full time science teacher at FPC, where she now teaches biology, algebra and liberal arts math.
In her first year as a teacher, McNally matched the district's end-of-course exam average scores; in her next year, she exceeded them. The 2018-2019 school year end-of-course exam scores for her biology students showed steep gains in their reading abilities, prompting a student to send McNally a thank you email.
"I just wanted to email you and say thank you so much for being such an awesome teacher," the student wrote. "I never imagined that I would not only get a 4 on an EOC but score in the top 27% in the state. Thank you so much for the notes and for listening to me when no one else would.”
McNally attributed the improvement in scores to clear expectations, reading and engagement, noting that she started every unit with a guided reading exercise and relied on hands-on learning.
"I strive to be a servant leader," McNally wrote. "When I see a need a teacher or student might have, I attempt to collaborate with other faculty and staff to fill those needs, even if the need is outside my classroom. When anyone achieves success, we all do."