Marion’s Teacher of the Year

For Ocala Springs Elementary teacher Lindsey Bigelow, support, personalized attention and classroom management are the keys to student success.

Golden Apple Teacher of the Year Lindsey Bigelow holds her Golden Apple as she gets hugs from her first grade students at Ocala Springs Elementary School in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.

Home » Education
Posted February 8, 2023 | By Julie Garisto,

Ocala Springs Elementary’s first-grade language students trickle into a colorful and well-ordered language arts classroom. Their teacher, Lindsey Bigelow, stands at the door and greets each of them with a good morning, and they provide a salutation in return or a special greeting unique just to them. 

One girl elbow-bumps Bigelow, does a princess curtsy and twirls, exhibiting the unapologetic individuality Bigelow encourages in all her students.  

As an instructor, Bigelow is a triple treat of creativity, engagement and exceptional classroom management, qualities that prompted her peers to nominate her for Marion County’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. The process of naming teacher of the year involved a five-month process of written teacher portfolios, personal interviews, classroom observations and surprise visits. 

Bigelow accepted the Golden Apple award at a gala hosted by the Public Education Foundation of Marion County on Feb. 4 at the Reilly Arts Center. In addition to the title, an honorarium, a seat on the Foundation Board, and accolades from fellow teachers, colleagues, and students, Bigelow received a prepaid three-year lease on a new Mazda from Jenkins Auto Group.  

Saturday night’s big winner grew up attending Marion public schools. She attended Maplewood Elementary and Osceola Middle School and is a graduate of Forest High School. Bigelow earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Florida.  

“In my free time, I like spending time with my family, going to the beach and reading,’’ she wrote on her school’s website, adding that she’s also the varsity cheerleading coach at Forest High. 

On a typical weeknight evening, Bigelow might babysit for a friend after planning classes, meeting with parents and teachers after school and coaching cheerleaders, and then wake up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again. Keeping busy, she said, has helped her to avoid career burnout, a plight of thousands of other teachers statewide. 

According to a statement made by the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers union, the state’s public schools posted job openings for nearly 5,300 teachers in January, more than double the vacancies of two years ago.  

When classes started this year in Marion County, 150 of them were taught by substitute teachers. Subs earn around $76 a day (more or less, depending on education level) to do the job of absent teachers.  

Bigelow doesn’t view teaching in Florida as an impossible job, but even Marion’s Teacher of the Year experienced some hard times when she started out. 

“When I was a new teacher 10 years ago, there were days I thought, ‘Am I even doing what I’m supposed to be doing?’” she said. “Just having support from the administration saying, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ and checking in and saying, ’Is there anything I can do to help you?’ can make all the difference. I have been blessed at two different schools (also Belleview Elementary) for always having had that support.”    

Bigelow said she has also had positive experiences dealing with administrators at the state level.  

Despite the resources that do exist and recent increases in salary, there has been a disconnect between teachers and administrators nationwide. For them, the struggle is real.  

“To avoid a ‘Great Resignation,’ districts need to make substantive changes to reduce stress and improve morale in schools,” the National Education Association recently posted on its website. “Educators don’t need any more chair massages or casual Fridays. This is about support and autonomy.”   

As far as recent state curriculum mandates go, Bigelow said she hasn’t been affected by the recent recall of school library books deemed to have questionable content. 

“I was a struggling reader in first grade,” Bigelow said. “I can remember just having the hardest time learning to read, and it took a teacher really believing in me … and finding things I enjoyed reading. So, I think that’s important. My kids may not be able to read the hardest book ever, but if it’s something they enjoy and I can sit and read it with them or they can create their own story using the illustrations and building their vocabulary, I think that that’s going to help build them into lifelong learners and lovers of reading.” 

Bigelow keeps her classroom tidy with color-coded bins and shelves lining the walls. Her room has a colorful rug with impressionistic flowers where her students practice reading. 

“I love to just put out all the books that I have and watch and see who picks what,” Bigelow said. “It gives me insight into each child and what they enjoy. I’ll say, ‘I want you to pick three books that look interesting to you and that you would like to read.’ Though they may not be able to read that book yet, I remind them that they can do it soon, in the future. Building their confidence in reading and seeing what they’re interested in helps me get more insight into them as kids.”  

Though students in elementary schools often do classwork on computers, Bigelow has her class practice words on paper and assigns them face-to-face activities in groups to nurture their people skills. She also provides stuffed animals for kids to read to if they’re not ready to read to a classmate.  

The routine and structure, she said, are what children need to learn, but sometimes personalized attention must take priority, as well as believing in her students. 

“I had a child that struggled with self-control and emotions,” she said. “So, I focused on that child first, not on what he was learning. As we finally kind of broke through, regulating our emotions and kind of figuring out what was going on, he excelled academically. I think he always had it in him.” 



Golden Apple Teacher of the Year Lindsey Bigelow teaches her students in her first grade classroom at Ocala Springs Elementary School in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023. 





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