By Randy Tatano

A former Shelby County Board of Education Division Assistant made a big career move to follow her dreams and help children realize theirs.

Tawana Jones is now an English teacher at W. S. Neal High School, in Brewton. Since Jones is a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, she said “nevermore” to her old job.

Going from school auditor to teaching would seem to be a drastic career change, but it made sense for Tawana Jones, considering her love for children and literature. So, this rookie teacher moved from Shelby County and now has her 9th graders at the East Brewton school doing more than just book reports.

Jones got the idea to become a teacher by helping out one of her nephews, and with family in the area, W. S. Neal seemed like the perfect fit. But she’s not a typical English teacher, this week sharing insights on professional writing skills like foreshadowing, fear, revenge, unreliable narrators, and other elements of Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado.”

She wants her students to do more than just the usual.

“Don’t just read the story … did you get the true meaning? It’s about vengeance,” Jones explained. “What creative ideas are there?”

Though she’s teaching freshmen, Jones is already helping them prepare for next year’s PSAT, generally given in October of sophomore year.

“They need to be able to read, analyze, and comprehend,” Jones said,

Jones also stressed the importance of building vocabulary since standardized tests place a great value on knowing the meaning of words and how they relate to concepts.

“Whether they go to college or not, I want to send a child on the road to a great education,” Jones added. “What’s in their best interest might not be popular, but these skills will help them wherever they go.”

Jones is constantly in motion around the classroom, often asking, “Does anyone need assistance?” as her students review Poe’s story. A hand goes up, and she’s quickly looking over the shoulder of a student, offering advice. It's a far cry from looking over the shoulders of administrators or accountants to ensure accountability in her old job. The students are focused, with no disciplinary problems in this class.

“I want to provide stability and want them to know I love them,” Jones continued.

Jones’ brightly decorated classroom reflects her other job at Neal: cheerleader coach. She said cheerleaders should be “the light of the school.” Her theme is “Smile, Sparkle, and Shine” while one bulletin board reads, “We all have something within us that the world needs.”

Jones also sees a few future scribes, noting there are several good writers in her classes, along with an aspiring artist.

She’s planning a three-part lesson on To Kill a Mockingbird, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alabama native Harper Lee. The lesson will include the book, the movie, and a trip to the annual spring play in Monroeville - though she’ll only show the students part of the film and then ask them to use their imagination to think about how it should turn out.

Jones has already become a popular person around Neal. Students who aren’t in any of her classes drop by to chat during her planning period.

The bell rings and she sends her students off on a positive note. “Love y’all. Have a great day.”