Grove Park Intermediate School third grade teacher and Atlanta Public Schools Elementary School Teacher of the Year Dennis Toliver has what Grove Park principal Patrick Muhammad calls “intrinsic wherewithal.”
That means “they have to be able to just stick and stay,” Muhammad said during a recent interview with Public Broadcasting Atlanta.
Muhammad said Toliver is a teacher who “has it all.”
He captures his students’ attention and they hold on to every word that he says because they know what he gives will truly benefit their lives
“He’s a teacher who enjoys exactly where he is and what he does every day,” Muhammad explained.
“The children in Mr. Toliver’s class benefit from this wherewithal that he shows.”
That’s why Toliver is not only the APS Elementary School Teacher of the Year, but also an American Graduate Champion.
Another clue that Toliver is a gifted teacher is his classroom.
“If you just see his room you can tell there’s a lot of intentional effort put forth to making sure the room is inviting,” Muhammad said.
On this particular day Toliver is wearing a black tee-shirt with the image of a sparkly alien head on the front.
His students are eagerly raising their hand to answer the questions he is asking.
And it’s no wonder. His classroom is the kind of space that sparks a child’s imagination. It’s colorful, bright, and inviting.
“The room is full of life and Mr. Toliver is full of life,” Muhammad stated.
Brilliant rust and red brick wallpaper covers one side of the room. Tacked on top of the bricks are the letters of the alphabet and alongside the letters are objects, for example, that start with the letter.
There is a vivid blue banner and signs and numbers that hang from the ceiling. There’s a multi-colored calendar with the days of the week stretching across part of another wall. There’s a world map pinned high on a wall and yellow stars that dance across part of another wall.
Big block letters above the doorway read “Kids Are Special People.” A child-size scarecrow stands guard near one corner. A poster on top of a bright red wall square declares the “Literary Genres,” including
fiction, non-fiction, folktales, drama, and poetry, all spelled out on the spines of brightly colored, thick, stacked books. Next to the poster, a smaller picture of a pair of penguins looking down at their chicks. Other assorted pictures and sayings surround the larger poster.
A small floor lamp in one corner creates a cozy, homey atmosphere . Another high, brightly painted mural runs off one wall and onto the next, spelling out in big, block letters that are painted orange, green, blue and red, “YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU.”
There are computer stations and desks set up in squares so children are facing each other in groups of four, creating a cozy space for learning.
“He’s always been there when I needed a helping hand,” one of his students told PBA.
“He’s always been nice to me and every time I got my problem wrong, he won’t yell at me. He always says ‘It’s okay. I’m here to help,’” she continued.
Muhammad said the rumor is in Mr. Toliver’s class “there’s never a dull moment.”
“He captures his students’ attention and they hold on to every word that he says because they know what he gives will truly benefit their lives,” Muhammad stated matter-of-factly.
Toliver falls into a category that Principal Muhammad described like this: “Our teachers work extremely hard to make the improvements and gains that we get every year and as we say ‘We’ll see with the top because at the bottom [it’s] too crowded.”
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