Terri Ferguson Smith
He's not a professional rapper — he describes himself as a country boy from Holmes County — but Travis Dixon, the Golden Apple teacher of the month for April, has rapped his way into the hearts and minds of his math students at Neshoba Central High School in Philadelphia.
In front of an assembly of students recently, Dixon was surprised to learn he was the Golden Apple teacher of the month winner, but he acknowledged his rap that helps students understand the quadratic equation had something to do with his numerous nominations for the award.
"I'm just so happy that my students thought enough of me to nominate me for the Golden Apple. It makes me feel happy in the sense that although as I'm teaching them the lessons, they are learning and also appreciate me for teaching the way that I teach, being involved with them," Dixon said.
Dixon teaches college algebra, trigonometry, AP calculus and algebra II and this is his first year teaching in public school. He taught at MSU and MVSU during his graduate studies, he said.
In presenting the award, Barbara Jones vice president of operations of MCC, the presenting sponsor, listed some of the qualities students named in describing their teacher: "respectable, creative, considerate, positive role model, friend, kind, caring, helpful, amazing, outstanding and supportive."
"One nominating student wrote, 'I look forward to attending his class and he makes me want to strive for excellence. His teaching methods, whether it be from rapping a song for us about math or making us do the same type of problem over and over until we fully understand it, have furthered my knowledge and improved my work ethic.'"
John Bowen, principal, said it's not just one thing that makes Dixon an effective and respected teacher.
"Mr. Dixon has that great combination of really knowing his content, he knows the strategies to teach students the best possible way and to explain things so they can learn it," Bowen said. "He is a very caring and compassionate teacher. When you combine all those together you have an excellent teacher."
Dixon was visibly touched by the support he received from his students.
"It makes me feel excited because it's like, I can't put it into words," Dixon said. "When I first started teaching ... I asked students to list their favorite subjects and their worst subjects. Most of my classes put that math was their worst. I told them that by the end of the year, that would change and math would be their favorite subject."
Dixon said he was inspired by his tenth grade math teacher, Ms. Linda Williams.
"She always said, 'Travis, it's not where you go but it's what you do when you get there," Dixon said. "From that she inspired me to go down the road teaching."
Dixon was good at math in school, so it was natural for him to teach it.
"To me, math doesn't change and it's always a way you came out with the answers. You don't just say 'Voila, that's the answer.' You have steps and procedures you have to follow to get to it. That's the reason I like it," Dixon said. "Math is like second nature to me. Some math is harder than others but I can recognize patterns and techniques, little things that help me with math."
However, transferring that knowledge to students who may not have a natural affinity for math, can be a challenge, but it's a challenge Dixon said he enjoys.
"I try to give every student a shot to succeed, so even though they may not like math, I try to motivate them any way I know how," Dixon said. "If you don't understand something, I try to break it down to them where we find the specifics of what they don't understand and we creatively fix it from there."
And the quadratic equation explained, at least partially by rap?
"I was trying to get some way to engage my students and get them more interested in math," Dixon said. "They enjoyed it and I even had some students say, 'Mr. Dixon, you're my favorite teacher because you are not afraid to get on the line, step out of bounds, step outside the box.'"
As his first year as a teacher nears its end, Dixon said he sees the truth in the expression, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
"My day is over quick. I guess that's because I have so much fun in my classes that it really doesn't seem like I'm really working," Dixon said. "My job is fun and I enjoy it."
To view Dixon's rap on YouTube, go to dixonsometypeofway.
During the presentation of the Golden Apple Award, Dixon received a Golden Apple trophy, a $300 check, a voucher for $1,000 in school supplies and he will automatically be in the running for teacher of the year, which will be announced in May.
For the Golden Apple Award, each month nominations are solicited and a panel of judges considers the nominations after the teachers' names, and the names of the schools have been removed.
Nominations can be submitted by parents, faculty, or community members as well as past and present students. Candidates must be a current, full-time, faculty member in a public or private school system who is working within the following counties: in Mississippi — Lauderdale, Neshoba, Kemper, Clarke, or Newton counties. In Alabama — Choctaw and Sumter counties.
The nomination process consists of an essay of no more than 500 words detailing why the person should be considered for the Golden Apple Award. The teacher of the month will be recognized in a surprise ceremony and will receive a prize package and a cash award.
Specific details and an entry form are on meridianstar.com and wgbctv.com. Those interested in nominating a teacher should go to either of the websites, and click on the Golden Apple logo.