To understand Tamara Leveridge’s teaching style, read the bright yellow sign on her classroom door.

“When you enter this classroom, you are important,” reads the sign, which also tells students that they are leaders, thinkers, and creators. “You are loved.”

Now the sixth-grade English teacher at Ivy Hill School has been named Newark’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. A Newark native, she is the first Teacher of the Year to be honored by Superintendent Roger León, himself a proud Newarker who was briefly Leveridge’s high school principal.

Leveridge attended University High School, where León was principal during some of her time there, and graduated from Montclair State University. She has been teaching for 11 years — two at Ivy Hill in Newark’s West Ward and six years at Dr. E. Alma Flagg School before that.

Leveridge said she wanted to be a teacher since she was in the third grade, and always tries to bring good energy to her classroom. This past February, she spearheaded a “Living Wax Museum” project where nearly all of the sixth-graders at Ivy Hill dressed up as notable historical figures from their respective cultures. Parents and community members were then invited to the “museum” to learn about people like Rosa Parks and Louis Armstrong from the students who were dressed up as them.

Ivy Hill Elementary School principal Dorrice Rayam said that when Leveridge interviewed for the teaching job, she stood out because of her humble demeanor and the way she prioritizes students.

“She always talks about the kids first,” said Rayam, who nominated Leveridge for the Teacher of the Year honor. “She doesn’t like attention, but she deserves it.”

A teacher from every school in the district is honored each year after being nominated by administrators and faculty in their school, but only one is selected by the district as Newark’s overall Teacher of the Year.

“Ms. Leveridge is an extraordinary professional,” Superintendent León said in a statement, “who, through her compassion and love for students and teaching, is changing lives every day.”

León presented Leveridge with balloons and flowers in front of her students and asked them what they liked most about their teacher.

One of her students, Grace Adzakey, who dressed up as Whitney Houston at the “wax figure” museum, said, “She always tries to help us so we can get better.”

Adzakey, 12, also said that she likes Leveridge’s sense of humor.

“When we are playing around, she makes a joke out of it,” she said.

Leveridge said that playful banter is one of the reasons she enjoys teaching sixth grade.

“They get my sarcasm,” she said.

She emphasized the importance of putting students first and developing relationships with them.

“I think what sets me apart is my passion and relationship with the kids,” she said.

Leveridge, along with the other top teachers in the district, will be honored at a breakfast later this week.