Joanne B. Tindall, 2007 Freida J. Riley Award

Written by on May 15, 2007 in 2007, Educator, Frieda J. Riley Award

Joanne Tindall

Joanne B. Tindall

W.F. Tallman School
Nashville, Tennessee

The recipient of the eighth annual Freida J. Riley Teacher Award is Joanne B. Tindall, a teaching principal at the W.F. Tallman School, Nashville Transition Center, for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Nashville, Tennessee. The award is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation. The award was presented to Joanne at a dinner ceremony on October 1 in Harrison County, West Virginia.

Born prematurely, Joanne was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of two. Doctors told Joanne’s parents that she would most likely be mentally retarded, would never walk or talk, and should possibly be institutionalized. Thankfully, her parents disagreed and worked hard to foster in her a determination to live beyond her disability. Defying the doctors’ dire predictions, Joanne quickly learned to walk and talk and has worked hard to remain ambulatory.

Far exceeding the school system’s expectations, Joanne was quickly mainstreamed from self-contained special education classrooms into inclusion classrooms. Ultimately, she not only graduated from high school as a National Honor Society student, but graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa from Tennessee Technological University with a teaching degree in special education, followed by a Master’s Degree in Administration and Supervision. In 2006 she was inducted into the Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary sorority of women educators.

Building on the lessons learned through her own experiences as a disabled student, Joanne was determined to become a teacher and make a difference in her students’ lives. She has dedicated her career to working with students with all types of special needs. Despite having a Master’s degree, Joanne was unable to secure a teaching job in rural Tennessee. Her first full-time teaching job was in an inner-city school in Washington, D.C., where she says her real education took place. Imagine being a female Caucasian, first-time teacher with cerebral palsy from a small rural area—teaching in a school where her students were all African-American males—and street-wise! It was culture shock for all concerned— Joanne, the school staff and students.

With two-years teaching experience, Joanne returned to Tennessee and taught for the next three years. After working as a crisis hotline phone counselor on weekends at a mental health center, her career soon led to teaching GED classes to adult clients in the alcohol drug treatment facility. Not long after, she was asked to assume the lead teacher and principal position of the adolescent day-treatment program. This eventually led to her current position as a teaching principal in a State-operated juvenile justice facility, where many of her students have earned regular diplomas, GEDs, or special education diplomas in this very difficult teaching and learning environment.

Joanne is an inspiration to her students and co-workers alike. When asked whether she ever felt threatened or intimated in her surroundings, Joanne’s compassionate response is “No, these kids are in more pain emotionally that I am physically. I won’t give up on them. Working with students of this type has been extremely rewarding for me. Even though the challenges we face are different, by working together and learning from each other we overcome the obstacles in our path.”

When notified that she had been selected as the recipient of this year’s Freida J. Riley Teacher Award, Joanne said: “To even be nominated for this award was an honor. I am humbled and amazed that I have been selected as the winner. I have been using the movie October Sky and the “Rocket Boys” in my classroom for years to illustrate overcoming obstacles. It means a great deal to me to be recognized for doing what I love, and I aspire to be as much of an inspiration to my students as Miss Riley was to hers.”

Joanne is married to Bill Tindall, and has two sons Will and Ryan, ages 9 and 5.


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