2019 Citywide Teacher of the Year finalist: Kathleen Trace

This is the second 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.

Kathleen Trace grew up in a family of educators; however, she never imagined she would become one herself.

“As an adolescent, I said the last thing I wanted to do was teach,” said Trace.

It wasn’t until after earning a degree in Literature and Cultural Studies from the College of William and Mary and started substitute teaching that she found her home in the classroom.

Trace, now in her 13th year of teaching, knows she made the right decision to teach and can’t imagine herself doing anything else. Her commitment to teaching is demonstrated through the relationships she has with her students.

“I believe that in order to be an effective educator I must know my students, build relationships with them, and be committed to their academic and social, emotional growth.”

An inspiration wall and zen time are ways she connects with students in their journalism and dual enrollment English classes at Salem High School.

“Within my classroom my main goal is to help students develop into the most independent reader, writer, speaker, listener, thinkers possible. Students should leave my class with the communication skills they need to be successful in college and careers.”

Students and colleagues gravitate to Trace and describe her as commitment to education as “unwavering” and “inspirational.”

If you weren’t a teacher, which career would you choose and why?
I have so many passions, some of which I pursue along with teaching – writing and photography for example. If I was not a teacher, I would likely be a print and/or photo journalist or novelist.

What is your favorite aspect about teaching?
Building relationships with students and teaching them concrete skills that they will use in college and careers are my favorite aspects of teaching. I get to be the person in a teenager’s life who loves them for who they are even if their peers or parents don’t. I have the opportunity to create lifelong lovers of reading and individuals who can express themselves clearly in writing.

What is the best teaching advice you’ve received?
Let go of perfectionism. I am a Type A personality. Naturally, I want each lesson and each supporting material to be perfect, but that is just not possible. Some lessons will invariably fail. I had to learn to use those moments as learning opportunities rather than chastise myself for imperfection.

How would you describe your teaching style?
I could accurately be described as a “new school” teacher. Having students take control of their own learning through independent, paired, and group inquiry as well as through student-led academic conversations is at the route of my teaching style. I like to serve more as a mentor and facilitator and less as a disseminator of information.

When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
I stated outwardly that I did not want to be a teacher right up until my senior year of college. Both of my parents spent their careers in VBCPS so I was a direct witness to the positives and negatives of devoting your life to education. I’ll admit there was also a hint of wanting to do something different from my parents. In college, I experimented with a number of different fields through jobs and internships and I didn’t find my home until I started substitute teaching. I found connecting with students came naturally to me. I realized that the schools were a place where I could share my passions and help others find theirs.

What made you choose the subject/grade you teach?
I’ve always had a passion for both reading and writing. I remember going to the Central Library as a kid and being so excited when I was ready to move up to the young adult section. I also recall sitting outside in the summer for hours writing stories with unconventional characters and settings. I rejoiced in the smell of a new book or the possibilities of a new writing assignment in school as a kid so becoming an English teacher was a natural fit. Teaching the older students was also a natural choice for me. I enjoy in-depth textual analysis, provocative debates and seminars, and advanced writing.

What is something about you that would surprise your students?
I doubt much about me would surprise my students. I’m quite open with them about my faults, strengths, and life experiences. Perhaps they might be surprised to know that I use my authoritative “teacher voice,” which I’ve honed over 13 years in the classroom, with my own children when they are in trouble and it works like a charm.

What is on your bucket list?
I’d like to do more traveling. I’d particularly like to see Belize, Costa Rica, Rome, Athens, various areas in Spain and France, the Greek Islands, and northern England and Ireland. I’d like to travel both with my husband (just the two of us) and with our kids when they are old enough to appreciate it. I love learning about and experiencing other cultures and sampling their cuisines.

Describe your perfect day off.
The perfect day off would have three parts. First, in the morning, my husband and I would stroll our two young children on the boardwalk, play with them at Grommet Island, and then have a picnic lunch on the beach. Second, after lunch, I would get some “me time,” which I would use to exercise, read, or relax. Finally, at dinner time, my husband and I would go out to a quiet dinner just the two of us (but of course we would be home in time to give the kiddos kisses and tuck then into bed).

What or who inspires you, and why?
My students inspire me. All I have to do is find the right spark and they will light a fire of ideas, discussions, and creations. Year after year they never cease to amaze me. They make me want to continually up my game to take them to new heights as readers, writers, thinkers, and communicators.

What is your favorite quote?
I have two. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared with what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu

Describe a favorite school memory or memory of a teacher you had when you were a student.
I had Kathy Sarosdy for 10th and 11th grade English at Kellam. There were many moments in those classes that were turning points for me. She made English less concrete and allowed me to break the rules of writing if I was doing so with purpose. She made less conventional readings of texts ok so long as we could back up our claims with evidence. I’ll never forget one day when she was returning essays and she apologized that some might have a stain because she spilled her red wine on them while she was grading at home the night before. She was just so real and she made us feel so at home in her classroom.

What advice would you give a new teacher?
Plenty, I wrote a whole book on it. I’m passionate about getting and retaining quality teachers in our classrooms. If I had to narrow my advice down to one thing it would be it don’t give up when it gets hard because it will. We lose too many new teachers in the first few years of their careers because teaching, particularly those first years, is a very difficult job. The first year of teaching is all about survival. It is about making it through the day, the class, the hour. Survival is a mode we are supposed to avoid with preparation and planning, but hardly any of us do. It is a mode of teaching that almost every first year teacher goes through, but IT IS ONLY TEMPORARY. It gets easier. It gets better. In fact, it becomes fulfilling in ways that are life-changing, but it requires that you stick with it.

If you had an opportunity to talk to any person from history, who would it be and why?
On a personal level I would want to talk to my maternal grandmother. We were quite close, but she passed away before I really found my place in the world. She never saw me start teaching. She never met my husband. I would love to show her the life I’ve built for myself and for her to meet her grandchildren. I know it would make her so happy.

On a more professional level, I’d want to go back and meet Shakespeare and find out if he really did write all those plays or is everything we learn about him is a farce.

SPEED ROUND: List as many of your favorite that you care to share.

Favorite food: Homemade veggie pizza

Favorite books: “Life of Pi” and “Pope Joan”

Favorite candy: Dark chocolate

Favorite vacation spot: Charlottesville, Virginia

Favorite movie: “Dead Poet’s Society”

Favorite TV show: “The Crown”

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One thought on “2019 Citywide Teacher of the Year finalist: Kathleen Trace

  1. “Mrs. Trace is awesome!“
    I hear about how great she is all the time! My daughter Rachel is currently in her dual enrollment English class at Salem High! I love hearing about what they are reading, writing, and creating! Congratulations!!!!

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