Oregon’s Intermountain Region Teacher of the Year didn’t start out to be an educator.
T.J. Presley, who teaches math at Pilot Rock Junior/Senior High School, studied finance and management in college and then jumped into the business world. He worked his way up the ladder with three Fortune 500 companies. He most recently served as operations manager at the Walmart Distribution Center in Hermiston.
Presley said he loved his job, but the schedule didn’t fit well with his growing family, which includes his wife, Lindsey, and two young sons, Benson and Calder.
So Presley cast his eye toward education, which seemed compatible with family life. He left the business world and earned a master’s in teaching at Eastern Oregon University, graduating in 2017. He immediately got a job teaching middle school math in Pilot Rock.
The career change turned out to be a splendid idea. In only his second year of teaching, Presley learned he’d been nominated for Regional Teacher of the Year for the Intermountain Region. This week, he discovered he had won.
“I was really happy just to be nominated,” Presley said. “It was quite an honor to be recognized by someone in the community. I still don’t know who nominated me.”
Learning he had actually won the award was a bit surreal.
“When they announced I was the winner, I was shocked,” he said. “It was a huge surprise.”
The honor comes from the Oregon Department of Education in partnership with the Oregon Lottery. Each winning teacher receives a $500 award. The honor automatically qualifies Presley to vie for 2020 Oregon Teacher of the Year, which will be announced in September.
To be considered, each of the nominees were required to submit letters of support from principals, superintendents, colleagues and students and were assessed on leadership, instructional expertise, community involvement, understanding of educational issues, professional development and vision by a diverse panel of regional representatives.
On Thursday morning, the school surprised Presley at an assembly that was billed as a send-off for the school’s state track-and-field athletes. Presley, who is the school’s athletic director, introduced the team.
“Then we hijacked the assembly,” said Pilot Rock Superintendent Steve Staniak.
Staniak and Principal Annie Tester unfurled a banner that read “T.J. Presley — Oregon’s Teacher of the Year, regional winner.”
“The kids read that and went wild for him,” Staniak said. “His 3-year-old son gave him a bouquet of balloons.”
Later that afternoon, Presley described his teaching style and rapport with students.
“My classroom is a safe place where they have the confidence to take a chance,” he said. “That’s what I try to create for my students.”
Staniak called Presley a “dynamic teacher.”
“We’re really proud of the job TJ does,” Staniak said. “TJ is a model of professionalism. He has the respect and admiration of his students and his colleagues in every way. We are seeing substantial gains in student math performance due to the work of Mr. Presley.”
Presley, a standout football and baseball player at Ontario High School and a member of the Western Oregon University baseball team, was assistant athletic director in his first year at Pilot Rock and then took over as head AD this year.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0810.