Funding Teacher Quality

Claxton Medallion Winners

1996—Lisa Ann Stone
1997—Buck Watson
1998—Lori Anne Fox
1999—Farrah Weaver
2000—Jamie Pratt
2001—Jennifer Pence
2002—Laura Davis
2003—Nicole Salvaggio
2004—Sylvia Arriaga
2005—Amy Holmes
2006—James Boutin
2007—Kathryn Elam
2008—Jessica Robinson

When Jessica Robinson won the Claxton Medallion last year, it was a huge honor—and a huge help, since the $5,000 monetary prize has allowed her to complete an internship at Maryville [Tennessee] High School without juggling a paying job as well.

The Claxton Medallion, established in 1995 by former College of Arts and Sciences board member Philander P. Claxton Jr. in memory of his father, Dr. Philander P. Claxton, the Claxton Medallion is awarded each year to the most deserving graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences who will be entering a fifth-year internship in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences to become a teacher. The monetary award has gone up in recent years from $1,000 to $5,000 and is currently funded through a direct contribution from the Claxton family. The family intends to establish a foundation to support the Claxton Medallion Award, as well as other programs—particularly in the field of education—in which they are interested.

“The internship is so time consuming that students find it virtually impossible to hold down an outside job at the same time,” said Melissa Parker, director of Arts and Sciences Advising Services. While most UT students, including Robinson, had the HOPE Scholarship for financial assistance during their undergraduate years, the HOPE doesn’t cover graduate work.

Dr. Claxton was the U.S. commissioner of education under presidents William Taft and Woodrow Wilson. He is well known for organizing the Summer School of the South, a regional program for public-school teachers held at UT in the early 1900s. The Education Complex on the UT Knoxville campus bears his name.

Philander Claxton Jr. was born in Washington, D.C., and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in 1934. He also received a master’s degree from Princeton University and was a 1938 graduate of Yale Law School. An expert in population control, he was a longtime State Department official and served as an advisor during the U.N. World Population Conference in Bucharest, Romania, in 1974. From 1978 to 1988 he was a consultant to the Futures Group in Washington on several projects involving the U.S. Agency for International Development. His work analyzed population as it figured into social and economic factors in countries around the world.

Arts and Sciences officials said Philander Claxton Jr. was very proud of the Claxton Medallion Award and enjoyed presenting it and meeting the recipients each spring. He died in 1999 at age 84, so now his son, Philander Claxton III, carries on the tradition and awards the Claxton Medallion and scholarship each year in honor of both his father and his grandfather.

“The Claxton Medallion Award has been a very important aspect of my internship,” Robinson said. “It was incredible to meet Phil Claxton, especially since I have had so many classes in the building named after his grandfather. Without the monetary prize, this internship would not have been possible.”

At Maryville High, she is teaching an algebra II class and two lower level algebra classes. “Teaching is a lot of work,” she said, “but it is also a lot of fun.”

Robinson, a Maryville native herself, received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. “It was good for me to have such a wide variety of experience with different levels of mathematics courses at UT. Additionally, four years of practicing mathematics as a college student has really contributed to my ability to relate to the students in our math classes,” she said.

Robinson admits she wasn’t excited about doing an internship: “I really just wanted to start teaching. I wasn’t looking forward to spending a year in a high school and not getting paid for it,” she said. “However, now that I am almost done, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”

“I have grown tremendously as a teacher over the past year. The fifth-year experience has allowed me to learn from veteran teachers, make contacts throughout different schools, and basically practice what I will be doing for the rest of my life. The teacher-education program at UT is fantastic and I believe without it, I would not be fully prepared to enter the workforce next year.”

Like so many UT teacher-education graduates, Robinson said the internship has affirmed her decision to become a teacher. “I wanted to become a teacher because I enjoy helping someone understand mathematics. I love the subject and I believe that everyone is capable of understanding math, given the right instruction and adequate practice. It is my hope as an educator to give every student an appreciation for mathematics.”

—Amy Blakely