For Flagstaff Junior Academy’s Kristin Patterson, adapting to teaching during COVID-19 can be reduced to three main things: patience with herself, compassion for families and maximizing the use of technology.
“I think every teacher in Flagstaff would want to be back in school right now if we could, but in recognizing what’s safe for our students and ourselves and our family, we know that’s difficult. But we really do still love these kids and we’re trying to make a difference however we can,” said Patterson, who was named the 2020 Coconino County Teacher of the Year in a private ceremony Friday.
Patterson is a third and fourth grade teacher at FJA and has been there for a decade after graduating from Northern Arizona University with a master’s degree certification in elementary education. Though she realized in high school working with kids might be her place, she made the decision to become a teacher later, while in college.
“In making that decision, I kind of knew some of the things that I would be facing,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t think I knew all of them at the time, but it still seemed so worth it. I had so many great teachers growing up and I guess that was something that I wanted to try to aspire to in my own career at some point, but at the very least I felt like I could make a difference.”
Patterson was recognized for just such an accomplishment Friday, alongside Killip Elementary’s Ashley Curtin, who was named the 2020 Rookie Teacher of the Year. Runners-up, named Ambassadors for Excellence, were Lynn Patton of Mount Elden Middle and Todd Van Hoesen of Haven Montessori for Teacher of the Year, and Tessa Alexander of Williams High and Langley Vannoy of Sinagua Middle for Rookie Teacher of the Year.
Fourteen certified teachers were nominated for the awards this year and were required to submit an essay application and three letters of support to be considered.
Though the ceremony, held six months later than anticipated, recognized outstanding local teachers from the 2019-20 school year, the event took on a new meaning as nominees and attendees acknowledged the work of all local teachers during the ongoing pandemic.
“Teaching is getting to be a rather difficult career these days because of the many challenges, standards we have to meet,” said Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Tommy Lewis. “So I’m glad to be having this event this year. … [Teachers] do wonderful things. They let us get going, to really get excited about learning along the way. There’s so many things to say about teachers. It’s a wonderful career, folks.”
Lewis spoke to a group of about 30 spectators, who sat in socially distanced chairs in the Ponderosa High School parking lot Friday afternoon to watch their family members or colleagues be recognized as outstanding teachers.
Rookie teacher Curtin, who has been at Killip for three years, attributed her success as a third grade teacher to these very same colleagues.
“I’m kind of speechless, just thankful,” Curtin said of receiving the award. “It is not a job I could ever do alone and my principal and mentor and especially the students and community are just endlessly supportive and giving and without them, it would be a difficult job.”
She thought she wanted to become a high school teacher after serving as a teacher aid while attending Coconino High School. When she later worked with elementary students in college, though, she was hooked.
“Elementary kids are so funny and I just kind of loved it,” Curtin said, explaining that the students remain her favorite part of her job. “They are always sweet and funny and they have spunky personalities and they’re just fun to spend time with and learn from.”
Patterson said she particularly enjoys getting to see her own students grow over the course of her two years with them as they progress through the third and fourth grades.
“They’re pretty little when I first get them, they’re 8, and by the time they leave, just to see the independence and maturity and kind of the transformation they’ve gone through over that time is probably my favorite part,” she said.
Patterson said she wished it would be possible to hold a larger celebration to celebrate all of Flagstaff’s dedicated teachers and felt honored to be recognized among them. Her advice for new teachers is to stick with it — and rely on supports like family and colleagues to do so.
“It’s going to feel hard and it’s going to feel impossible sometimes, but it’s worth it to stick with it,” she said.
The two Teachers of the Year and the Ambassadors for Excellent were awarded cash and other prizes. Patterson was also awarded a one-year leased Toyota Camry from Findlay Toyota, which reads, “Thank you Teacher of the Year, for your excellence in our community.”
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (928) 556-2253.
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