Dennis Toliver - American Graduate Champion | American Graduate Champions | PBA30

APS Award-Winning Elementary School Teacher Fires Up Students’ Imagination

By Shelby Lin Erdman 3-21-16

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.

tolliver_pic.png 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.

amgrad_logo.jpg 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.”

PBA's Atlanta Champions


Scott Allen

"He is such a dedicated teacher who says that he is awed by his students’ creativity and original thought."


Mouhammed Bah

"I think education brings more wealth to being successful than any other thing in life."


Travis Brown

"He just does everything he can to insure that when a student comes in his class he’s removed all barriers so that they can truly learn."


Atia Butts

"You always want to have the mindset of succeeding and if you know the people around you are not going down that path then do your best to be nice, be cordial, but distance yourself from those".

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Kim Bearden

"No child should ever be allowed to be invisible in a classroom."

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Barry Blackmon

"I use a lot of different methods and try to mix my own type of gumbo within the classroom, such as discipline and humor."


Meria Carstarphen

"We really want parents to help us get children in school, on time, every single day and that starts with getting up and making sure they can get out of the house on time, into the bus or walking to school."

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Ron Clark

"We’re trying to lift the spirits of our students so they’ll be excited and they’ll be eager to learn."


Megan Gilroy

"Health can still be fun. It doesn’t have to be this drudgery exercise in this terrible thing."


Dave Howland

"Literally every single grade a kid gets in high school has an impact on their future trajectory. So making sure that that’s a big piece, helps them stay on track to graduate."


Kesha Payne

"Every decision you make, keep students first. I say communicate clearly with parents and administrators. I say collaborate effectively with your colleagues and keep students top of mind."


Immanuel Reed

"When I was a kid, being a part of a program like this helped me tremendously, and I think that me doing the same thing for others, giving them chances, giving them the opportunity to make the best decisions, it’s full circle for me."


Dan Sims

"The hope is in the school house and we hold a primary place in inspiring kids to look beyond this time frame."


Amber Stewart

"The success of a student hinges on the teacher that’s standing in front of that classroom and hinges on the school leader that’s running that school."


Darryl Terry

"As a student in one of the most impoverished areas of Atlanta, I’ve always known that education is going to be my only way out."


Stuart Thorn

"We’ve been able to take the graduation rate for this cohort of kids up from probably what would have been in the neighborhood of five to 15 percent up to now above 85 percent."


Dennis Tolliver

"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."

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Jayongela Wilder

"There is nothing more rewarding then seeing a kid that you taught graduate from college."