I think that every teacher deserves some sort of award this year. Our community has been incredibly supportive of our efforts at the schools. I am honored and grateful for working at Dayville School and with educators in Grant County. All of the exciting things that I’ve accomplished have been made possible through the fantastic support and encouragement of our school board and our Superintendent/principal Kathryn Hedrick. It was encouraging to be recognized by the selection committee and awarded the prize of $500 from the Oregon Lottery who proudly sponsors the Oregon Teacher of the Year Program. But it is really about the students. Students may be surprised to know how much we teachers learn from them and their families. All of our most successful learning opportunities from the chick to barbecue and centennial celebration coop projects, to bunnies in the classroom, the school garden and hydroponics were student driven ideas. I believe that when teachers listen to their students, they have great ideas. Student input leads to excitement and engagement (for both my students and me), which is key to meaningful experiences which then leads to long-lasting learning.
One of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned from the quarantines and distance learning is how important our classroom community is to parents and students for reasons other than academia. I partner with my parents. They know that I also want what is best for their student as a whole person, not just getting them to produce a certain grade or score on a test. Growing confident, caring and resilient people who can think critically is something that we are doing together. My job is to provide meaningful experiences for students to practice the skills that they are learning. These skills are foundational to their success through high school and beyond.
I am fortunate to have students for multiple years, since I teach third through fifth grades. Together we are able to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, passions and challenges. From this, we build a learning community that is unique each year. My students know that I have high expectations for them, and myself. We work (and play) together. They inspire me to bring my best every day, and I am rewarded with their excitement and dedication to learning.
Each year, I set my intention to be sensitive, responsive, flexible and creative in partnering with my students and their parents. This year has really stretched my resiliency, but has also made me a stronger person. When we returned to in-person learning this fall, I was concerned about the major backslide in academic progress. But students were so happy to be back at school! They had an enthusiasm and a hunger for knowledge. I have never seen so much growth from fall to winter term as evidenced by their student progress reports from North West Evaluation Association. NWEA is an association of educators and researchers from Oregon and Washington who created a precise way to measure an individual student’s academic level and growth.
In our classroom each student has their own “office cubicle” set up, spaced according to social distancing guidelines. We put tape marks on the floor demarking their walls, entrances and exits. Students created and brought objects from home to decorate their “office.” Our first science project was to propagate plants in little pots for each of their desks. Each student has two desks and a milk crate to decorate and display their work, meaningful objects and inspirational items. I believe that this environment has helped them to be excited to come to “work” everyday while enjoying a secure and predictable space all of their own. As things start to go back to “normal” I hope that we remember the lessons learned during the pandemic, specifically of gratitude, self-care, technology and community connections. I hope that we can use what we have learned to create an even better learning environment for our students.
The most rewarding part of my job is building relationships with students and their families that last for years. By the time students leave my classroom we have experienced three years of life together, sometimes more (in the case of families with multiple siblings). A lot can happen in three years. We grow and change as people and a community. We live, laugh and learn together. I love getting letters from students who have moved to new communities but remember our time together and want to keep in touch. It is rewarding to know that somehow our time together has had a positive influence in their lives.
Being selected as Grant County Teacher of the Year is a step toward becoming Oregon Teacher of the Year. I hope to inspire teachers across Oregon to engage with students and communities through innovative teaching methods that capitalize on the uniqueness inherent to each school’s geographical and cultural location. I aspire to encourage the development of classroom cultures across the state that foster student engagement, individual growth and civic caring, while representing the excellence that can be found in the community of teachers in rural communities like those in Grant County.