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An Interview with Katy Anderson, Colorado Teacher of the Year Finalist

This year, Katy Anderson, a Stanley Teacher Prep alumna, was a finalist for Colorado Teacher of the Year. Below we catch up with Katy and talk about her teaching experience to date.

Name: Katy Anderson
Residency Year: 2012-2013
Residency Year School/District: Fall 2012 Eagleton Elementary (Mentor: Emily Fenske); Spring 2013 Stanley British Primary School (Mentor: Marijke Hoogeveen)
Current School/District: STRIVE Prep – Kepner, Denver Public Schools, 6th Grade Language Arts

Why did you decide to teach in Denver Public Schools?
I was ultimately driven to be in the classroom because I knew that social justice is something that I am incredibly passionate about. I believe education is the bedrock of our democracy and that it is the agent of change. An education is something that we guarantee as a country to all people. Education is an avenue to social change that I see as being very necessary in a society that is still very entrenched in racism and inequities.

What would you like our readers to know about your school community?
Kepner has been in the red since the School Performance Framework (SPF) has existed in Denver Public Schools. Of the [approximately] 430 middle schools in Colorado, it has ranked as one of the lowest for the last 20 years. Clearly, it is a place where change was needed. I am not completely pro-charter or anti-charter because working with humans is not black and white. It is something that is special for each community. This school had become such a violent place. We all know that bottom line students cannot learn if they don’t feel safe. The biggest thing that had to happen was a complete culture change. DPS asked the community what schools they wanted to come in and help turn Kepner around.

The community chose STRIVE Prep and a DPS innovation school, Kepner Beacon. The [teacher] retention rate is still not where we want it to be for this community. I am one of two teachers who returned for this year. I know that this community deserves to have an excellent place for kids to go to middle school. A lot of my students’ parents went to this school themselves. It is really cool to see how excited and proud they are to bring their kids here. We recently found out that we are now Green [on the School Performance Framework] within the first year of turn around, which is very exciting!

Tell me about your goals for your students this year.
We have an extra challenging job at Kepner, in a very beautiful way, because of our English Language Learners. I wouldn’t be doing this job if it weren’t for this challenge. Balanced literacy is the only way that I am going to close gaps for my readers who are not on a 6th grade reading level yet. My biggest goal for them and for myself is to be a special education teacher who is congruently running reading interventions and creating and implementing the most rigorous Common Core 6th grade curriculum that is possible. My goal is to constantly make sure that I am pushing myself to be the reading interventionist teacher that I also need to be for these kids. Learning how to teach an exceptional delivery of Common Core to English Language Learners, on levels K-6, in English and Spanish is a fine art and will forever be a challenge.

Looking back at your residency year with Stanley Teacher Prep, which skills/strategies/concepts that you learned have helped you the most as you began your teaching career?
I feel grateful, in an educational culture where we push such rigorous standards, to have such a strong foundation in developmentally appropriate practice. I am face-to-face with the opportunity gap in a very aggressive, apparent way each day. Amongst all of the data and measuring, having my practice firmly rooted and grown from what is developmentally appropriate is beneficial.

Another big take away from Stanley Teacher Prep is to promote joyful, lifelong learning. I have students who have been told over and over that they are awful. When they arrive in my classroom they are angry. However, it is truly their desire to feel successful and be loved. I have to un-teach so much hate that they have for the school as an institution. I get to teach them that learning is fun. It’s a really simple idea, but I need to show them that I am passionate, that I love them and that they are worth it. Nothing else matters if you don’t have that foundation.

What goals do you have for your career in education? Tell me where you want to go, and how you plan to get there.
I have been learning through my Teach Plus fellowship that we need more teachers choosing to go in to teaching and to stay in teaching. This is the long-term piece of the teacher shortage puzzle. I believe that teaching is where rubber meets the road. I feel like my meaning in life comes from impacting children on a day-to-day, one-on-one basis. The least I can do is show up for these kids.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who is looking to start a teaching career?
My principal always reminds me that you have to maintain the long view. It’s a marathon. I can get so concerned about daily progress monitoring, reading interventions and that I am not getting to all the kids. That’s one day. It is critical and important, but you have to be ok with not getting it all done.

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