ATLANTA – Mercer University College of Education Ph.D. student Latoya Tolefree was recently awarded the Georgia Association for Teacher Educators (GATE) 2021 Distinguished Clinician in Teacher Education Award.

Tolefree will receive the award at the 2021 GATE Annual Conference Oct. 14-15 at Jekyll Island, where she will also be presenting her research.

“I am deeply honored to be the recipient of this award for doing something that I truly love,” said Tolefree. “My school families at both Dunwoody Springs Elementary and Mercer University have continuously supported me as an educator while simultaneously challenging me. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to grow as a researcher and practitioner while I strive to meet the needs of students and teachers.”

The Distinguished Clinician in Teacher Education is designed to honor teachers and teacher educators who work in a clinical environment. Award criteria include organizational membership, service, nomination by a fellow GATE member, serving as both a classroom teacher and mentor of other teachers, and demonstrated skills including assisting teachers in applying the content of the pedagogy of effective teaching, emphasizing reflective teaching and self-analysis, employing exemplary coaching/conference techniques and other outstanding supervisory traits.

Awardees receive a plaque, free conference registration and a year of annual membership in GATE.

“We are so very proud of Latoya, not just for this tremendous honor, but also for her commitment to the field of education and her passion for helping novice teachers succeed in the classroom,” said Dr. Vicki Luther, associate professor and program director of the Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. “Without question, Ms. Tolefree is deserving of being named the state’s Distinguished Clinician in Teacher Education, as she consistently exemplifies what it means to be a Ph.D. candidate, a Mercerian, a world changer and an outstanding educator.”

Tolefree is a student in Mercer’s Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction program within the College of Education, which prepares current educators to become scholars, researchers and leaders in curriculum and instruction at local, state and national levels.

Her research has focused on elementary literacy, trauma-informed literacy practices and generational literacies within African American families.

She is currently an instructional coach for the Fulton County School District where she directly supports educators with math and literacy instruction, and serves as a new teacher professional learning facilitator and new teacher mentor.

“Having taught Ms. Tolefree, supervised her in teaching and research internships and now supporting her during her dissertation, I have the privilege of seeing why she has earned this award,” said Dr. Leah Panther, assistant professor of literacy education. “I remember during one teacher education internship within a literacy methods course, Ms. Tolefree spoke with gentle care to a teacher candidate who broke down with frustration during virtual learning. In a tense moment, she responded with kind words, targeted questions to understand the student’s socioemotional distress and spent her weekend creating adapted course resources to support the struggling teacher candidate. This level of careful attention and care was not unique to one individual, but represents her routine interactions with each colleague, classmate and student.”

About the College of Education

Mercer University’s Tift College of Education – with campuses in Macon, Atlanta and the University’s two regional academic centers – prepares more professional educators than any other private institution in Georgia. Named for the former women’s college that merged with Mercer in 1986, the College of Education offers baccalaureate and graduate degrees, and is guided by the conceptual framework of the “Transforming Educator,” which supports those who aspire to grow professionally throughout their careers, while also seeking to transform the lives of students. For more information, visit