Alumna Earns Teaching Award, Credits PBA Preparation

Kimberly Hammaker, center, poses for a photo with School Board member Barbara McQuinn and Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce Chair George Gentile at the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce's annual education awards ceremony last month. Hammaker was The Conservatory School's teacher of the year. Photo courtesy of Johnny Simmons Photography and the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce.Kimberly LittleJohn Hammaker is enlightening young minds in her middle school classroom using the same learning techniques that expanded her thinking while she was a student in the honors program at PBA.

For her work, the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce recognized Hammaker ’15 as The Conservatory School’s teacher of the year during its annual education awards ceremony last month. Hammaker was one of eight middle school teachers in northern Palm Beach County to be honored. Elementary and high school teachers were also recognized.

This marks the end of Hammaker’s fourth year of teaching at The Conservatory School, where she began as a second-grade teacher. After Hammaker’s first year, her principal charged her with leading Socratic discussions — open-ended discussions that encourage listening and critical thinking — for middle school students.

“It’s part of our school culture now,” Hammaker said. “The kids really learn how to think critically and communicate with each other.”

She credited professors Dr. Gary Poe and Dr. Tom St. Antoine with teaching her those same skills — critical thinking, close listening, understanding different viewpoints and respectfully disagreeing — through the Socratic discussions they led in the University’s Frederick M. Supper Honors Program.

St. Antoine said Hammaker brought a love for learning and commitment to education to PBA.

Poe remembered Hammaker as a hard worker who always came to class prepared. With a cheerful attitude, she was ready to tackle whatever the day brought and encourage her fellow students.

“Her ability to empathize with and encourage students while here at PBA was just who she was,” Poe said. “These signature traits are the kinds of things that make her a great teacher.”

A fourth-generation teacher, Hammaker said she owes a lot to her family’s support and the field experience she had through the School of Education and Behavioral Studies. The education department works hard to make sure future teachers are in the field every semester. By the time Hammaker graduated, she had worked in several Palm Beach County schools, public and private.

“PBA, as far as I’ve heard, is one of the only universities that puts its students in the field every semester.”

Hammaker, who primarily teaches English and social studies, recognizes that coming to class with a love for her students is just as important as coming prepared.

“Middle school is a hard time for little humans that are marking that transition from being children to young adults,” Hammaker said. “I try to come with a calm heart. Sometimes they just need someone who’s an adult they can trust to talk to.”

Photo 1: Kimberly LittleJohn Hammaker, center, poses for a photo with School Board member Barbara McQuinn and Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce Chair George Gentile at the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce's annual education awards ceremony last month. Hammaker was The Conservatory School's teacher of the year. Photo courtesy of Johnny Simmons Photography and the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce