Posted: Monday, February 22, 2016
Leigh Unterspan, an English teacher at Travelers Rest High, has earned the High School Teacher of Excellence Award from the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English. She is the only South Carolina teacher to be represented at the National Council of Teachers of English Teachers of Excellence Awards program later this year.
Unterspan teaches American Literature, English 3, and AP Language to juniors and seniors. She encourages her students to find balance through choice. “I think students write better about topics they care about,” she explained. “One successful strategy is giving them time to choose books for their own interest that they can read outside the classroom.”
Unterspan also wants students to learn how to write well when someone assigns a prompt, which is used when taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests. “We look at things I’ve written as well as words that other authors have written. Through collaboration and discussion, they figure out how they can emulate those techniques in their own writing,” she said.
Her teaching methods are reaping great rewards. “One student said her mother couldn’t believe she read an entire book overnight. I believe that making space for titles they like to read really makes a difference in students’ success as a reader and writer,” she added.
Unterspan is a Teacher Consultant with the Upstate Writing Project, a program through Clemson University that gives teachers tools to help improve students’ writing abilities. “I am able to share with other teachers the philosophies that have meant the most to me,” she said. “When I work as a consultant I share what I’ve done in my classroom and I give them examples of how to apply these techniques in their own classrooms.” Members of the Upstate Writing Project are currently helping teachers in rural South Carolina school districts to help students develop strong writing skills that will lead to college and career readiness.
Unterspan is a graduate of Furman University. She was a teacher at Wade Hampton High for five years before joining the Travelers Rest High teaching team. For two summers, Unterspan pursued a master’s degree at Bread Loaf School of English in Asheville, North Carolina. “Bread Loaf was an amazing opportunity to earn a master of arts in literature. I had some wonderful learning opportunities that have played a huge role in my growth as a teacher,” she said.