‘Dynamic’ Fort Smith teacher Melissa Trangmar keeps students engaged

August 7, 2016
Times Record

Bell Point Center – A New Tech Academy


Melissa Trangmar, a science teacher at Belle Point Alternative Center known for her “chemistry” in the classroom has been named the Fort Smith School District’s Teacher of the Year Award for the 2015-2016 school year.

Since 2013, Trangmar, 42, has taught students from grades 9 to 12 all kinds of sciences — biology, environmental science, earth science, physical science and chemistry — at Belle Point Alternative Center in Fort Smith.

In the 2016-17 school year, Trangmar will begin her tenure as Belle Point’s New Tech director as the school begins its first year as part of the New Tech Network and under a new name, Belle Point Center: A New Tech Academy.

Maria Arnold, who was then principal, nominated Trangmar.

“Melissa Trangmar is that dynamic teacher at Belle Point,” Arnold said. “I have a lot of dynamic teachers, but she is the dynamic teacher. … She does an amazing job. Her classroom instruction is so nontraditional, I find kids hiding in her science lab because they just love her classroom. She’s constantly got things going on. They’re learning, and they’re having fun while they’re learning.”

Trangmar said she won the award in June. Her victory was announced during the Fort Smith Board of Education meeting July 25.

On Tuesday, Trangmar answered questions pertaining to her winning the award and her career.

Q: Could you please describe your teaching career? Where have you taught during your career and when? 

A: My first year of teaching (2010), I student-taught at RL Turner High School (in Carrollton, Texas). They had a New Tech academy there called METSA. Then, I was hired on the year after my student-teaching and worked in their main building, in their traditional building as they were transferring to become a school within a school. So I stayed with them for that year, and then my husband and I bought a home in Tennessee. We moved there and I ended up working across the state lines in Mississippi at Corinth High School that was under the Cambridge Curriculum (from 2012 to 2013). Then, I got a call one day that offered me a position here in Fort Smith at Belle Point, an alternative school, and it seemed like a challenging and fun position, and my mother had just moved to this area as well, and so we decided to take that move and come and it’s been just a great thing ever since then. It just keeps going up and up.

Q: Why did you begin teaching at Belle Point? Why teach there as opposed to anywhere else?

A: I like working with at-risk kids. I like the challenge of it. You see the kids and you see an opportunity to give to someone what they didn’t have before. … At-risk for Belle Point means this is basically their last-ditch effort, I don’t know another way to really say that. Most of our students have been in jail or they have been in some form of a facility, and this is their introduction back into the public school system. From here, if they can learn the social skills they need, then they go back to Northside or Southside or the middle school that they came to us from, but until they learn those social skills and just how to be a good learner in the classroom and not disturb other people and not distract others, then they’re here with us. They get that one-on-one attention. We have small groups. We don’t have any more than 15 kids in a class at any given time.

Q: What is the criteria for the Teacher of the Year Award? What qualifications does one have to have to get it?

A: You have to be nominated by either a principal or a superintendent. Mrs. Arnold nominated me. Then it goes before a board or a committee. The application process that you filled out asks question just about … give two examples of why you teach and why you got into teaching, your philosophy of teaching, just some very basic questions. They just want to get inside of your head and see what makes you a good teacher. Then they vote and I guess decide which (teacher) they like.

Q: Do you happen to remember some of the questions and how you answered those questions? 

A: The question that asked about why do you teach. I got into teaching because I was sort of invisible through high school and my teachers didn’t see. There were some very traumatic things going on in my family, and nobody saw me, and it was back in the day when that was quite common. I always thought, if I ever got into teaching, I would make sure that would never happen to a child, that every child needs to be seen. That got me going.

Q: How do you feel about winning the award and what was your initial reaction to that? 

A: I was shocked. … I was just blown away to be nominated as it was. I never got into teaching to get big awards or do amazing things. I just wanted to teach kids and have fun and just see them get excited about science, so when I was called and told that I had won district teacher of the year, it took me a few minutes to wrap my head around what they were telling me … I feel like I still have room to grow. I feel like just watching other teachers, I’m still inspired what they’re doing and I want to take some of their stuff into my classroom. Now I’m teaching teachers.

Q: Now that you’ve won the award, what’s next for you? 

A: Keep walking forward. Now that I’m not in the classroom, I want other teachers to know what it takes to get kids engaged, what it takes to tap into their brain and get them to want to learn more, to learn through curiosity. I just want to make sure that if I can’t be in the classroom to help the kids anymore, I can at least be in the classroom and help the teachers help the kids through them. I guess I have a bigger responsibility because now I can broaden and reach more kids and see more kids succeed … because of the position I’m in now. I want to make sure I do really well at it and support our teachers and make sure they have what they need to the job the way I wanted to do it, but didn’t have the time to do it.