Laurens County Teacher Selected as WYFF4 Golden Apple Award Winner

January 22, 2023

If you watch WYFF4 News you are very familiar with the Golden Apple Award. Each week during the school year the station highlights one teacher in the viewing area to highlight for making a difference in the lives of students.

For the week ending on Friday, January 20th the Golden Apple Award winner is from Laurens County.  Anna Barker, the Librarian at Sanders Middle School was selected in part for her ability to transform the library into a place where children want to be.

Barker has been teaching for 22 years and is in her 6th year as a teacher librarian.

Building relationships with kids is her passion, so she makes it a priority to learn all of the students’ names so that when they come to the library, they know she knows who they are. From here, Barker builds a relationship through conversations about hobbies, interests, home life etc.

“My favorite thing about being a teacher librarian is that every kid in the building is my student,” Barker said. “I get to provide a safe place for all students in the school.”

As a librarian teacher, Barker collaborates with teachers and plan lessons together that are standards-based and engaging.

Being a teacher librarian is completely different today than the role of the librarian of 30 years ago. The increase in technology and social media has required that teacher librarians become specialists with teaching research skills, source credibility and digital citizenship. Additionally, teacher librarians have been tasked with handling all technology needs for our students and teachers.

Many hours of the day are spent trouble-shooting Chromebook issues, promethean boards, laptops, and much more. Teacher librarians work tirelessly to build a library collection that aligns to content standards while offering various points of views on topics and represents the diversity within each individual school. They create dynamic library programs that meet the needs of students and teachers through various reading incentives, challenges, celebrations and events. Many teacher librarians serve on the school leadership team and assist with planning instruction, scheduling, purchasing literacy materials for the school and planning school events.

The middle school years can be challenging on many levels so what do you do to keep things interesting and to engage students?

Prior to becoming a librarian, Barker has 16 years as an ELA teacher becoming a librarian, so she brings a unique set of skills for creating engaging activities for all students.

“I have taken many of the fun things I did with my students in my classroom and brought them into the library,” said Barker “For example, we play the ball game which is just tossing a beachball around the library when I see that the kids need to wake up or just need some movement to get their blood flowing. This is ALWAYS a hit!! There are several rules to this game and the kids thrive when you give them a challenge.”

Barker also uses earning points during library time for a small reward as a way to keep students engaged during the lesson. “Middle school students are extremely competitive, so offering a reward and knowing they are competing for something keeps them focused on the goal,” said Barker. “I’ve been known to break out in song when necessary!” She also tries to offer reading incentives several times each quarter. These always have rewards associated with them.

With decades of experience teaching children, Barker knows well the importance of creating programs to spark the interest of students.

One program she initiated to build collaboration and community at Sanders Middle School is the weekly news show the “SMS Buzz Feed.” Students have the opportunity to apply at the beginning of the school year to be part of a news team. Currently, they have four teams that swap out each week. Students write and edit the script, come up with ideas for special segments and then interview and film the news segments. Barker produces the final show using a green screen and the iMovie app. Students from different grades, backgrounds and social groups all work together collaboratively to create an entertaining show that airs each Friday!

“I love watching how this show transforms the kids who are introverted and shy into shining stars,” said Barker. “This program also offers all students the opportunity to be a part of something not based on any previous experience or skill.”

Barker also added dry erase tables in the library during her first year at Sanders. This allows infinite opportunities for students to collaborate. Throughout the year, they collaborate with partners through digital escape activities like the library orientation or working together to write Halloween acrostic and concrete poems, using the spines of books to write Spine Poetry and various other games that require them to collaborate to earn points.

Another creation from Barker is a MakerSpace area in the library where students can work collaboratively. This is a place where students have choice in creating something using 3D pens, building with Legos, Keva planks, Magnatiles, Brain Flakes etc. or having a friendly competition with a variety of board games, giant Jenga or the giant Connect Four. The MakerSpace is open in the morning several days a week and can be used as a reward or incentive for students. She also has two MakerSpace weeks each semester where the entire school comes to the library by class and enjoys a class period of collaboration, creation and competition!

Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, Barker came to South Carolina to attend college at Bob Jones University. After completing her degree in 2001, she decided to stay in South Carolina because she loved the area so much. After applying for several teaching positions, but not hearing back on them, Barker returned to Michigan for the summer. Near the end of July she interviewed at Gray Court Owings School and was offered the job on the spot. She then ,drove 800 miles back to Michigan, packed up her belongings and well, the rest is history.

“I still love to visit my family in Michigan several times a year, but South Carolina has become the place I love. I married my husband here and started a family here,” said Barker.

Barker’s certifications and career highlights include:

  • Middle School Certified in English Language Arts & Social Studies, 2005
  • National Board Certification Early Adolescent ELA 2008
  • Gifted & Talented Endorsement
  • National Board Certification Renewal, 2018
  • M.A. Ed School Library: Marshall University, 2019
  • 2008-2009 Teacher of the Year-Gray Court Owings School
  • 2012 Distinguished Literacy Teacher-Gray Court Owings
  • 2018 Distinguished Literacy Teacher-Hickory Tavern School- Librarian
  • 2020 Distinguished Literacy Teacher-Sanders Middle School- Librarian
  • 2022-23 Teacher of the Year-Sanders Middle School
  • 2022 Outstanding School Library Program- SCASL (South Carolina Association of School Librarians)

Someone this passionate about teaching and students draws from a personal love of teaching and the inspiration of others.

Barker’s father was a huge influence on her decision to become a teacher. He was a principal for over 20 years and was a servant leader at his school. She recalls that It was not unusual for him to spend weekends assisting the custodians with various tasks. He also was very visible at school. In between classes, he was always out in the hallway interacting with the students. He possessed the ability to balance respect and fun. He was a caring principal! His teachers loved working for him because he cared about them personally and professionally. Being able to witness that impressed upon her the importance of building relationships with students.

Additionally, Barker draws inspiration from the teachers she had throughout her school years. Many of the engaging activities she incorporates were influenced by things they did in the classroom. “They showed me that being a teacher means being authentic with your students,” said Barker. “So, if that means breaking out into a song or dance at times, just do it!”

It doesn’t have to be “classroom like” to teach or have an impact on a student. Throwing a ball around, making things a competition or game, making students feel important through conversations or noticing little things like when they are having a bad day and taking a minute to chat or got a new hair cut or style, these are all things she learned from her teachers.

Now our Laurens County Golden Apple Award Winner, Anna Barker, is inspiring her students and truly making a difference.

Click on the HERE to view the Golden Apple Award segment on WYFF4.