Not every third-grade teacher could get 19 of their 21 students to come back to school for more learning at night. But that’s exactly what Brandi Leggett of Prairie Ridge Elementary School in Shawnee was able to do one recent Tuesday.
The De Soto school district teacher invited her students to return to school so they could Skype with students in Australia to discuss the differences between weather in Kansas and where they live.
That’s just one quality that led Leggett to be named one of two Johnson County finalists for the 2014 Kansas Teacher of the Year award. There were 105 teachers in Kansas nominated for the award, which honors excellence in teaching among elementary and secondary educators.
Leggett and Jennifer R. Smith, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Blue Valley’s Lakewood Middle school in Overland Park, are the two finalists for Region 3, which covers the third U.S. Congressional district. Leggett and Smith each won $2,000. The winner will be announced Nov. 23.
Both teachers were nominated by colleagues and have undergone a rigorous months-long application process that includes essay questions, interviews and presentations.
Leggett views this honor as recognition of the people that have shaped her teaching career the past seven years.
“Each person has played a role in it,” Leggett said. “Everyone from colleagues to students and family members. I am always taking something away from someone’s constructive criticism or a student’s comment in class.”
Since Leggett received her bachelor’s degree in sports management before getting her master’s in education, she likes to incorporate sports into her lessons to help motivate her students. If you walk into her class during a math facts lesson, you’ll usually find the students performing soccer skills and toe touches while they work in teams on a math game.
“The kids don’t really realize that they are studying while they are playing it,” Leggett said. “It’s a fun way of learning.”
To make reading more fun, Leggett reached out to the Sporting Kansas City soccer team when she formed the Sporting PRE Soccer Readers Club at her school. Each week students focus their reading lesson and homework around a particular team player. After students successfully turn in their homework over a seven-week period, they can attend a Sporting Kansas City training day where they get to meet the players. The incentive seems to be working. More than 110 kids have earned their way to next month’s trip.
On any given day in Smith’s eighth-grade social studies class, students take a trip of a different kind — one that travels through history.
“In my class, students learn what it is like to be an immigrant going through Ellis Island, a muckraking journalist in the Progressive Era, or to write letters to Eleanor Roosevelt during the Great Depression,” Smith said. “History is the story of what has happened to our country. Social studies should be engaging.”
Like Bleggett, Smith believes in making her lessons relevant to her students so that they can experience success both in and out of the classroom.
“My number one goal is for them to find their own voices in my classroom,” Smith said. “From day one, I set the environment that their voice is important in the classroom and in their community.”
After 19 years of teaching, Smith said she owes a lot of the credit for her nomination to the team of teachers she has worked with over the years. She says her colleagues have kept her working in education and loving what she does.
Both Leggett and Smith said they are happy to have been named a finalist for such a prestigious honor. Even if she isn’t chosen as Kansas Teacher of the Year, Smith feels like the entire nomination process has itself been an award.
“It’s been very reflective to look back on my career and look at all the people that have impacted who I am as a teacher,” Smith said. “That part has been a blessing.”