Katie Kizer, 3rd Grade Teacher at Tangent Elementary School in Tangent, Oregon
Nominate By: Sharayah Johnson (co-worker/teacher)
I have had the privilege of working with Katie, and watching her grow into the teacher she is today over the past six years. Even with the struggles we would often experience with our high poverty population, Katie would walk into my room and ask me, “What was your positive nugget of the day?” No matter how difficult the day was, by asking that question, she single-handedly helped me grow both personally and professionally over the past five years.
Katie deserves this honor because she genuinely cares about her student’s lives. Not only is she very passionate about teaching children to love learning, but she is eager to inspire her 3rd grade students to be their best selves. She makes it a priority to check in with her students, and is often seen asking her students, “What are you grateful for today?” This practice is now routine for our staff as well. For many of her students, their home life is a struggle in a number of ways, and for some, school is the one place in their life that is constant and safe. Katie takes this role seriously and creates a community within her classroom culture that is so evident that even outsiders walking into her room can sense the feeling of calm and love that emanates from her learning environment. I have no doubt that Katie’s leadership within her class and within our school building itself has helped improve our school culture over the past five years. She is an incredible individual whom I feel privileged to call a colleague and friend.
Congrats, Katie, from all of us at K103! Get to know Katie Kizer:
What inspired you to become an educator?
I wanted to become an educator because I recognize just how monumental a positive role model and a meaningful relationship with an adult can be in a young person's life. As a child, I experienced a lot of trauma and always felt out of place. Although I had amazing things to offer, I didn't always feel like I was seen or valued for those special qualities. When I went to college, I studied human development and family sciences. I wanted to understand how individuals develop, especially within the context of different family structures. My aim was, and is, to impact each of my students in ways that help them to recognize their beauty, to acknowledge and overcome their limiting beliefs, and to become the most powerful and loving versions of themselves as they show up in the world with their talents, interests, and passions!
What do you like most about teaching?
My favorite part about being a teacher is the beautiful relationships that I have formed with my students and my colleagues. There is nothing better than watching a child showcase who they are with confidence, particularly when their words or actions inspire and motivate others to be their best. Each week in my classroom we have a compliment circle where my students pour on the respect and admiration for themselves and for others. It is truly beautiful to see them shining because they know how to command their energy in ways that uplift others.
What has changed the most since you began your career in education?
I have changed tremendously since beginning my career in education. I have learned how to love fully, even when, and especially when, students exhibit unloving behaviors. I have come to understand that each person's behaviors are indicators of their inner feelings. I have learned to not only recognize my own emotions, thoughts, and actions, but to also acknowledge those of others. This has allowed me to be the bridge between where myself or my students are currently, to where we would like to go physically, emotionally, or mentally. In the beginning, everything was messy and difficult and scary. Today, I am proud of the way we are showcasing our character within our academic endeavors.
What would you like parents to know about your job?
I would like parents to know that being a teacher is INCREDIBLY grueling. The love parents feel for their children is the same love I feel for their children. Working with THIRTY sweet, young human beings is exhausting because I am pouring my whole self into every ounce of what I do. My desire is to guide these children on their journeys as they learn to do so for themselves. I would love for parents to recognize how patient and how determined teachers are to help their children grow - not just academically, but in their whole being.
I know that parents can get overwhelmed from time to time with their one or two or three children, but to embrace all of the personalities, moods, and academic differences all day, every day, is a lot to take on. Sometimes I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders because I can empathize with each one of my students' current experiences. If they feel sad, I can feel it too. If they feel wild and crazy, I feel it too. If they feel calm and loving, I feel it too. We are all connected in this classroom environment.
I also really want them to know how beautiful each and every one of their children is. I want them to understand that our kiddos are doing the best they know how, that they are seeking love and validation, and that they desire to please their parents, their teachers, and themselves. If we can show them how to set goals, take action toward those goals, and feel gratitude in all of their moments, challenging or rewarding, we will be setting them up for success, whatever that looks like in their eyes. I want parents to know that they are the leaders of their families and that their children are going to duplicate whatever successes or struggles their parents are experiencing. I want them to know that they can drastically enhance their family dynamics and the lives of their children by choosing to lean into, to develop awareness and strategies, and to overcome their own struggles. With support, guidance, and love, we have the ability to completely rejuvenate our communities from the inside out.
Share a favorite story about your years in education.
One of my very favorite things about teaching occurs every Thursday in my third grade classroom. My third graders lovingly refer to the fourth day of our school week as "Quote Day." Each week we select a powerful quote that ties into one of the concepts we've been learning about. We've discovered important people from history like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, of course, but we also discovered many other authors, speakers, and leaders around the world such as Brene Brown, Tony Robbins, and Brendon Burchard. I share with my students the context behind the quote, whether it is historical or whether it requires reading a chapter from a book. We spend intentional time reflecting upon the quote before we begin writing. For about ten minutes, I turn on meditation music, and my students write about what they think the author is trying to teach us and also about how that impacts their lives. I am always amazed at how calm and peaceful the room feels as they record their ideas on paper. I turn the music down and we gather in a circle at the carpet. My students and I take turns sharing our most important takeaway from the quote. I am astounded at the beautiful words that come out of their minds and hearts. Touched, I often tear up upon hearing how proactive and caring each of my students aspires to be because of the inspiration they received from these quotes. Informally, my students always giggle and say that their goal is to make me cry. Every Thursday when I come home, my friends and family ask me about the words shared during quote day. This writing activity has become so much more than just an opportunity to practice handwriting, grammar, and communication. It has become integral to building relationships and understandings about ourselves and our classroom community. This is why quote day has become my favorite part of being an educator.