First Grade Teacher Nominated for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year
First grade teacher, Katie Barnett, recently received the announcement from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year that she was nominated for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year in 2020. Barnett began teaching at PA Virtual in 2006 and this is her 13th school year here. When Katie, or as her students call her, Mrs. Barnett, was asked what it means to be nominated she replied that she was flattered, “but it just makes me want to work harder for my students. There are so many fantastic educators out there and so many wonderful modes of teaching. I want to continue to improve myself, my knowledge, and ultimately the educational experience I am able to give my students.” We interviewed Mrs. Barnett to find out more about what motivated her to become a teacher and why she enjoys teaching at a virtual school. Read her answers below!
What is your favorite thing about teaching Elementary School students?
The “aha” moment by far. When I get to be a witness to when a student has been working so hard on a skill and all of a sudden the light bulb goes off and the skill clicks. I live for those moments.
What is your favorite part about working for a virtual school?
I love the partnership with parents and a transparency with the students’ needs. From day one with each parent, I tell them they are advocates for their children and I want their input. Frankly, the more the better. I encourage the students to ask for what they need as one of my class rules. Students know what they need even if they can’t articulate it. It’s my job to help puzzle each student out and provide the research-based instructional supports to make each student successful with the task at hand. Having a parent as a partner in this endeavor is huge, especially in the younger grades when learning skills such as reading are so diverse. Parents actively work with students just as much, if not more so, than I do. I get to not only develop a connection with the student, but also with the parent. Having their continual honest feedback makes me a better teacher each and every day.
How do you engage students in the virtual classroom?
Simple – any way I can. I start simple with my two class rules: show respect in all things and always ask for help. By establishing an environment students feel safe to make mistakes in, I’ve set the stage to allow students to learn and grow as they’re ready to do so. I love music and sing to my students daily or include songs and videos to help practice skills or review vocabulary. With regards to showing respect in all things, I insist that students only bring their positive selves to class and be ready to learn, and at least willing, to try for me. We all have off days, but if I can create an environment in which my students feel safe and comfortable, then I can ask them to do many a thing throughout the year and they’ll do it for me. I’d do the same thing in a brick-and-mortar classroom. To me, it’s no different. Children need to feel valued and heard to invest in their teacher and learning and, in turn, themselves.
Have you always wanted to be a teacher?
If you ask my mother that question, she’d whip out my baby book where I wrote in kindergarten what I wanted to be when I grow up – a teacher. However, like most kids, I had many interests as I grew up and actually started out in college looking to be a genetic counselor! After a year of schooling, I realized my true passion, and have pursued it each and every day since.
Was there a moment that sparked your interest in teaching?
My younger brother first sparked the idea in me that I might want to teach. He was not a “good” student and struggled to maintain a C average. However, if you spoke with him, his creativity and vocabulary were phenomenal. He just couldn’t produce it on a cut and dry test. I remember my mother sitting with him for hours each night doing his math homework and it ending in them both becoming frustrated. One night, they were working on fractions and my brother just did not seem to “get” it. They’d tried multiple different ways of doing it and were taking a break. I knew my brother preferred building and taking things apart to doing just about anything else other than reading, so I snuck a knife out of the kitchen and took the wax candles mom used as decoration on the table. When she wasn’t looking, I taught my brother all about the concept of fractions by cutting apart my mom’s candles. We both got in trouble for destroying the candles, but he understood fractions after that! I absolutely love learning what makes a child tick and how I can use that to help connect the skill to how someone needs to learn. It’s absolutely fascinating.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m very honored to have been nominated again and wish more teachers from charter schools, especially cyber charter schools, were nominated and put forth their credentials to showcase the amazing work we’re doing with our students, even if it’s in a non-traditional setting.
We are lucky to have such a dedicated teaching staff and wish Mrs. Barnett all the best as she continues the application process for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. If you would like to nominate your child’s teacher for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, here is a link to more information of the program as well as the nomination form.
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