Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference. -- Robert Frost
"School was a refuge for me," writes Alley in her Teacher of the Year application. "There were those teachers who fed my spirit of the love of learning. Those were the pieces of light, hope that helped to create my desire to be an educator."
A product of Dyer County schools, Alley attended Holice Powell Elementary School and it was there that she discovered a love of basketball and sports in general. She began attending a Saturday basketball program thanks to the generosity of one of the coaches who made sure Alley had a way to get to and from practices and games. It was that small act of kindness that set Alley on a different path in her life. Her home circumstances made it really easy for Alley to become a statistic but that act of kindness changed her life forever.
"That sacrifice of a parent helped to shape my future in such a big, positive way," said Alley.
Alley would continue to excel athletically and academically and she says that sports dominated her high school career. Alley recognizes that it is thanks to countless teachers and that parent who encouraged her when she needed it most.
"I see my purpose is just to give back," said Alley. "I look out at my classroom and I see a bunch of little me's. I tell them all the time that this is the time in their lives that they are making decisions that will impact who they will become.
"I will forever be indebted to those teachers and that parent for opening doors I never knew and giving me light for my future," continued Alley. "As an educator, I (realized) I could pass the light and love that was given to me."
Alley's biggest contribution to her students is her ability to connect and communicate with them. She will use any tool at her disposal whether its singing, dancing, analyzing, drawing, demonstrating, presenting, acting, playing games, debating, reading, discussing, blogging and writing to motivate and challenge her students to learn.
"I'm always trying new stuff," said Alley. "I'm always reinventing the wheel. Always trying to do it different, do it better."
This school year Alley's students are not the only ones being challenged, as Alley has been challenged to use her mind more. Alley has been diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disorder called progressive muscular atrophy. According to Alley, it's related to Lou Gehrig's disease and has a life-expectancy rate of five to 10 years after first being diagnosed.
Alley first noticed that she was losing strength in her arms and wasn't able to do the physical things she was accustomed to doing. Alley had always used her athleticism to motivate her class to learn and the progressive limitations that her new illness would place on her would be difficult to handle at first. After a doctor told her what her diagnosis was, she was devastated.
"When I found out I cried out 'God are you finished with me?'" said Alley. "I have had to reassess how I do things. I am more academic now."
Alley continues to adapt to her condition and hopes that she can keep doing that to continue to touch children's lives. This year she has had to use her mind more as her condition has progressed and has forced her to use a wheelchair. When she returned to school this year she found it difficult at first to answer the questions surrounding her new mode of transportation, but it was one of her students who put it all in perspective for her.
"I had a student tell me that it was a privilege to be able to ride around in my chair," said Alley with laughter. "They think it is the coolest thing that I get to ride around in this scooter."
The comment was a blessing at that moment and resolved her to stay here as long as God wanted her here. Eventually Alley's speech may be affected but right now she is focused on being able to live her purpose and allowing her light to grow brighter rather than dimmer. She sees her condition as an opportunity in the tragedy to teach her kids about life.
Alley says that she is humbled to be recognized as DMS' Teacher of the Year because it is a recognition that comes from her peers. Their validation of her as a good teacher means the world to her.
"I'm happier now, I'm more excited about what I do," said Alley. "This must be God's spirit. My light is growing brighter instead of growing dimmer.
"This disease can take my body but it will never take my mind."