This is the first article in a series of profiles about each finalist for Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ 2019 Citywide Teacher of the Year. The citywide winner will be announced at the Teacher of the Year dinner hosted by the Virginia Beach Education Foundation May 3.
Katherine “Katie” Anderson had a love of English from a young age. As a college sophomore headed toward a degree in English, her father was excited to hear her announcement of applying to William and Mary’s School of Education.
“A life-long and self-proclaimed nerd, I felt most at home in a book or learning something new,” Anderson said,” but that wasn’t what let me to teaching.”
Anderson remembers teachers like Mrs. McTwiggen, her third-grade teacher, Ms. Neydon, her seventh-grade science teacher and Mrs. Pohl, a high school teacher, which led her to teaching.
“These educators didn’t just teach me about the subject matter; they showed me – through small, daily actions – that I mattered.”
Now in her tenth year of teaching, the Ocean Lakes High School English teacher makes a point to know her students and make them feel heard.
“Seeing my students as independent, capable humans – and treating them as such – has helped to transform my role in the classroom.”
Anderson’s primary goal as a teacher is to help her students to become their best selves. She encourages students to make choices and follow their own course of action. She lets them know that they may encounter some bumps along the way, but reminds her students that the best and deepest learning occurs with opportunities to problem solve.
If you weren’t a teacher, which career would you choose and why?
I would be a writer/blogger because I would still get to enjoy the written word, and, as a bonus, could work from home and drink coffee from a real mug. I’ve always dreamed about writing, from the time I was little and created children’s stories, which is probably part of my decision to major in and eventually teach English.
What is your favorite aspect about teaching?
I love being able to build relationships with students. They, hands down, are my favorite parts of teaching.
What is the best teaching advice you’ve received?
Being flexible is the most important advice I ever received. The lesson plan almost never goes the way I intend it to the first time around, so being able to let go of my “perfect” vision for the “better” reality has been a relief. Also, I think that taking time for myself was important advice so that the job didn’t consume all of my hours.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I tend to think that I’m pretty laid back, but I don’t know if my students would agree. I do think I’m flexible and understanding with a lot of student-centered instruction, but I still have high expectations for my students’ abilities and skills, which sometimes makes them consider me to be demanding. I’m not a big fan of the “easy answer,” so I think that also earns me some of that “demanding” title, but I do give them choices and try to encourage their autonomy.
When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
I’ve known I wanted to be a teacher since I began teaching my younger brother when I was 5. I decided to be a teacher my sophomore year of college after helping to tutor a local student through a community-outreach program. It felt natural and right; I come from a family in which education is a common career, so it seemed to be something I was born to do.
What made you choose the subject/grade you teach?
Some of my happiest childhood memories are of reading books that transported me to other places and times. From the time I could write, I told stories of others and myself. Teaching English also allows me the opportunity to blend cultural and historical awareness, something I’ve always enjoyed, with practical skills like writing and reading comprehension. Plus, I knew I’d get to know my students well through our conversations and their writing.
What is something about you that would surprise your students?
Every year my students are surprised that I actually loved math and considered (even began the work of) majoring in math in college.
What is on you bucket list?
I’d love to either go on a cross-country road trip or travel the Pacific Coast Highway from beginning to end.
Describe your perfect day off.
My perfect day off involves a run at North Landing State Park or on the boardwalk; probably some yoga; brunch at a local spot with good coffee, sunshine, a book; and my family. The best day off involves being present in the moment and not worrying about work or chores.
What or who inspires you, and why?
I’m inspired by my family that came before me, specifically my grandparents. They are all college-educated, and three of the four were not quite “sent off” to college upon high school graduation. One used the GI bill after military service; another returned to college after many years away from school; yet another was sent to college because the farm wasn’t producing well that year. Their education opened doors for my parents, which in turn opened up doors for me. When receiving the honor of being named one of the Teacher of the Year finalists, my dad reminded me of the faith they placed in education to better themselves and the lives of their children. I am a product of their faith, and I carry on the legacy of the faith they placed in education through my own work with students. This collective memory inspires me to honor their beliefs and to ensure that American education retains its ability to open doors.
What is your favorite quote?
To ask an English teacher what her favorite quote is seems a bit mean (just kidding!).
A perennial favorite is: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), but I’ve also really enjoyed the words of Erma Bombeck: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”
Describe a favorite school memory or memory of a teacher you had when you were a student.
I distinctly remember sitting in my junior English class, discussing Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” and realizing that I understood more of the reading than I’d thought. That whole year was a lightbulb year for me, but that moment specifically changed the trajectory of my life and my recognition that my skill and my passion might be more aligned than I’d previously believed.
What advice would you give a new teacher?
My best advice would be to ask for help from a colleague who others respect and don’t be afraid to ask to observe your fellow teachers. I’ve learned more as an educator by sitting in the rooms of my peers than in my teacher training program. Watching and learning how teachers practically approach classrooms of diverse learners is vital for survival as is knowing you are not alone!
If you had an opportunity to talk to any person from history, who would it be and why?
I took a college course about Pocahontas in which we explored her footprint in literature; as a result, I’ve been pretty fascinated by what she was actually like. I’d love to speak with her and hear her perspective of English colonization of America and what parts of the apocryphal versions of her life may actually be true.
SPEED ROUND: List as many of your favorite that you care to share.
Favorite food: Watermelon
Favorite books: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Favorite candy: Dove dark chocolate and KitKats
Favorite vacation spot: Somewhere on the water where I can watch the sun rise or set
Favorite sports team: My brother and dad would be upset if I didn’t say the Kansas City Royals, but I’m not big into sports
Favorite movie: “Forest Gump” and “10 Things I Hate About You” (old habits die hard!)
Favorite TV show: “This is Us”Tell your friends! Follow us!