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Tyler Shows, a fifth-grade math teacher at Petal Upper Elementary School in Petal, Miss., high-fives a crowd of his students. On Oct. 18, 2022, an audience of Shows’ colleagues and students surprised him with the Milken Educator Award, an award given for excellence in and dedication to teaching. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Person of the Day | Tyler Shows: Petal Educator, Milken Award Recipient

Editor’s Note: In May 2024, over eight months after this article was published, authorities charged Tyler Shows with two alleged counts of felony touching for lustful purposes and one alleged misdemeanor count of dissemination of sexually explicit material to a minor. Read more here. The original story from August 2023 is below.

A devastating EF-3 tornado struck Petal Upper Elementary in January 2017, leaving the school’s roof in ruins. As the shattered building stood uninhabitable, fifth-grade math teacher Tyler Shows found himself facing a new challenge. With the school unusable, he and his fellow teachers set up temporary classrooms in borrowed rooms at Petal-Harvey Baptist Church.

Despite the chaos, the students, numbering in the hundreds, adjusted to their new routine in less than a week, and amidst this rudimentary arrangement, Shows was reminded of his first motivations for teaching.

As an undergraduate student, Shows initially struggled to find his passion outside of college. While he worked toward a business degree with an emphasis in accounting, he knew one thing for sure: He did not want to be an accountant. So, after trying his hand at a multitude of jobs, Shows ended up at a kid’s summer camp at the YMCA of Petal. An impassioned talk with his former coach from Petal High School inspired the Forrest County native to consider teaching as a career path.

“After that, I signed up for my alternate-route courses, and from there, it was just kind of a ‘meant-to-be moment,’” Shows recalled “My classes went well, and the right job with the right mentors fell into place, so I’ve never looked back.”

In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed teaching, Shows and his students persevered.

“During COVID, when we were all sent home, we weren’t sure if we were able to come back next year,” he said. “When we did come back, I had a special, memorable group of kids, and I really learned to appreciate being able to leave the house and come to work every day and interact with kids in the way that I do.”

Tyler Shows (pictured) has worked as an educator for around a decade, and he credits his principal Emily Branch and his mentor Sara Beth Henderson for helping him develop the tools and skills he needs to teach his students. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

After Petal Upper Elementary reopened, the once-desolate hallways came alive with the footsteps of students ready to continue their education. Among them was Tyler Shows’ fifth-grade math class, where games were an everyday part of learning.

For the purpose of keeping his students on their toes, their eyes alert and their minds ready for learning, Shows developed numerous games that infused his lessons with an element of adventure. Candy and plastic balls took flight across the room, whizzing through the air in a frenzy as Shows’ students answered questions.

“I love playing games in the classroom; it keeps them listening,” Shows said. “The best way to engage students is to talk to them about their ideas. The most important thing is to give every student a voice in the classroom. Every student should understand that their ideas are valuable. Students working together and having conversations allows this to happen.”

His students received the top fifth-grade math scores in the state, these performances attesting to Show’s effectiveness as an instructor. The educator also runs an after-school mathlete club and spends his time filming multiple online math tutorials for his students.

After nearly a decade of teaching, Shows met a roaring and applauding crowd as he stepped through Petal Upper Elementary’s auditorium on Oct. 18, 2022, to accept that year’s Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation. When he heard his name called, Shows was almost unable to walk as hordes of children and teachers alike swarmed him with praise and hugs.

The ‘Oscars of Teaching’

Lowell and Michael Milken started the Milken Family Foundation in 1982. Encouraged and mentored by exceptional teachers all their lives, the two brothers realized how special their education was and acknowledged that not every student benefitted from similarly special experiences. As such, the duo launched the Milken Family Foundation with the goal of bringing recognition to the teaching profession and inspiring more young people to consider it as a potential career path. Ultimately, they wanted to improve the profession by honoring extraordinary teachers.

(From left) Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards; Mississippi Interim Superintendent of Education Dr. Kim Benton; recipient Tyler Shows; Petal Upper Elementary Principal Emily Branch; and Petal School District Superintendent Dr. Matthew L. Dillon posed for a photo after the announcement that Shows had won a Milken Educator Award. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Known by many as the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Educator Award is one of the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition programs. The Milken Family Foundation only bestows 35 to 40 awards every year, and recipients receive $25,000 to spend however they wish.

To be considered for the award, candidates must exemplify five qualities: having innovative and engaging teaching practices; serving as leaders in the profession; being in the early to middle portions of their careers qualifying as “unsung heroes” (i.e. not actively seeking recognition for the work that they do), and working to be role models and to leave long-lasting positive impressions on their students, colleagues and communities.

Notably, the Milken Family Foundation does not use a nomination process. The lengthy selection process is entirely confidential, and educators are not aware that they are recipients until the actual moment they receive the award.

Dr. Jane Foley, the senior vice president at the Milken Family Foundation, said that what ultimately led the foundation to choose Tyler Shows for this award is his unique ability to change the lives of his students.

“Every successful person can remember a teacher that changed their life,” she told the Mississippi Free Press. “Tyler is someone that students will remember far into their futures.”

She also cited his amazing teaching ability.

“How many people do you know that say ‘I’m not good at math.’ Well, this isn’t the case if you had Tyler Shows as a teacher,” Foley praised. “When he received the award, there was a great reaction that exceeded my expectations. To say he’s having a strong influence on his students and his school is a colossal understatement.”

The Milken representative said that when she visited the classroom and asked the kids what they liked about math, they rose to their feet with their hands up, wanting to tell her what they were doing with Mr. Shows.

‘Be the Best Together’

His influence on his students does not seem to stop after they leave his class. When Shows’ students graduate, Shows is often met with a stack of graduation tickets. Although these tickets are usually reserved for family and friends, former students who remember Shows’ because of his influence in their lives often give a ticket to Shows.

As a result of the relationships Tyler Shows has built in his classroom, many of his former students have given him tickets to their graduation ceremonies. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Shows’ students are not the only ones who hold him in high regard. Emily Branch, the principal of Petal Upper Elementary School notes his leadership skills.

“Tyler is one of our teacher leaders on campus,” she said. “He is always willing to do whatever needs to be done not only in his own classroom but also our school as a whole. He has helped organize school carnivals and volunteered in the summer to get the school ready. He doesn’t just care about the success of his students, but he also cares about the success of his fellow teachers, which makes all the difference.”

“A lot of people try to compete and be the best, but he really encourages and inspires others so that we can all be the best together,” Branch added.

Shows expressed that the Petal Upper Elementary community has affected him just as much as he has left an impression on them.

“During my first year of teaching, I had no idea what I was doing,” Shows said. “I owe my entire career to two people: Emily Branch and Sara Beth Henderson (his mentor). I can’t imagine that year without them.”

Shows hopes that the recognition he receives from the award will showcase Petal Upper Elementary as well. “If you walk into my building, there are probably 70 people that work there, and it takes every one of us to ensure students’ success,” he said. “I really appreciate the people that I work with. We all share talents that are unique. My one hope is by recognizing one of us, we recognize Petal Upper.”

For more information on the Milken Family Foundation and the Milken Educator Awards, visit

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