By Thomas Sellers Jr.
When the school year began Millington Central High School art teacher Amy Lange was focusing her attention on promoting her students, growing program and the culture of art in Millington.
But midway through her eighth year at MCHS, Principal Mark Neal presented Lange with an honor and a surprise platform to shine more light on the Art Department with the MCHS Teacher of the Year award.
“It’s been very exciting,” Lange said. “It’s very unexpected. I didn’t expect to be even nominated. Mr. Neal nominated me and when they came in they surprised me with balloons and someone from the Board. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s awesome.’ I didn’t think anything farther from that.”
Lange’s honor for the school would take her farther and now the 13-year instructor is two steps away from possibly being named Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Since Neal presented her with the award for Shelby County Teacher of the Year for the high school level, Lange was named top teacher for the Memphis region.
If she is named Teacher of the Year for West Tennessee later this spring Lange will be a finalist for the state honor.
“So, I just filled out the rest of the paperwork and when they told me I won the next two levels, it’s been nice to be recognized for all the work we’ve done in the community,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’ve done all that work because I’ve worked with the Millington Arts Council, the city’s Leadership program and the National Art Honor Society students.”
Lange said her being in a position to be Teacher of the Year is a reflection of the Millington resident supporting the MCHS Art Department. Events like the annual Silent Auction and sales at the Millington Farmer’s Market have promoted students and their creative pieces.
A typical day at MCHS for Lange is teaching Art II, III and IV. Then advanced placement students and media graphic pupils work under the experience eye of Lange.
After she graduated from Stamford High School in Connecticut, she earned her bachelor’s degree in photography from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Her Master’s degree came closer to Millington at The University of Memphis where she is currently working on her doctrine.
While she continued to educate herself, Lange was also determined to teach her students art appreciation, tap into their talents with creative outlets and build a program that would make all of Millington proud.
“It’s been eight years in the making of building up this program,” she said. “When I first got here, we didn’t have AP Art. We weren’t entering into scholastic competitions. There wasn’t a whole lot going on in the department.
“It’s nice to be recognized for all that work they everybody has done,” she added. “I honestly don’t feel like Teacher of the Year is about me. It’s about the work, about all my kids and the community members have done to support these programs and make it stronger.”
Lange said the hard work of students like Amy Baltensperger, ST Davis and Amber Lee over the years has put the MCHS Art Department on the map from national competitions to the Memphis International Airport.
“I’m so proud of my kids,” she said. “It just makes me so happy when I’m out in the community and people are looking for some responsible and reliable kids, they look to my group in the National Art Honor Society. That’s makes me really proud that we’ve created that kind of climate in our community, that the advanced art students of Millington Central High School are go-to type of people.”
The next set of students continuing the success of the Art Department is Sierra Fergueson, Kyle Williams, Jeremy Culbertson, Mackenzie Rader and Ayana Peete.
Lange said a teacher is only as good as their students. She said she facilitates their work in her classroom. But a lesson she learned from her first job at Germantown High School under her mentor Mary Kay VanGesen taught Lange the job continues past those four walls.
“She really instilled in me that, ‘Your job is not to just come in the classroom and teach from 7 to 2,’” Lange recalled. “But the competitions, writing letters of recommendation, helping kids with college portfolios, that’s really the most important part of the job.’ What are you doing to help them succeed past high school? That’s what I really think is most important. It takes a lot of time outside of school. But she taught me that’s a part of the job and that’s what you do.”
Lange taking that lesson to heart has made her a part of the MCHS and Millington fabric. She said the family decision to make Millington home was the right one.
“It makes me proud to live and work here,” she said. “We could have lived anywhere. When we were looking to buy a house, we looked in Tipton County, Cordova. But Millington is where I teach and where I wanted to live. So we found a place in Lucy and we love living in Millington, my husband and I, with our dogs.”
Now the girl from the Nutmeg State could be the next person from Flag City to win a top honor in the Volunteer State.
“It’s a little surreal,” Lange said. “You have to write essays and answer different questions each level you move up to.
“So I try to answer the questions as if I’m standing there in front of people who want to hear what I think is important about education today,” she concluded. “I try to write the essays like that. And we’ll see what happens.”