Starting out as a teacher can be challenging, but eight Johnson County teachers passed their first year with honors.
The Horizon Awards, given by the Kansas State Department of Education, celebrate four elementary and four secondary first-year teachers from each of the state’s four congressional districts.
Each district can nominate one teacher from each level for consideration.
Many of the winning teachers put a special emphasis on interactive activities in their classrooms.
Andrew Hulse, who teaches science at Blue Valley High School, said he adds his own special twist to the “pair and share” philosophy of education that he calls the 5-4-3-2-1 method.
After giving his class a quick ungraded assessment on their iPads, he spends five minutes going over the information again, then gives them four minutes to reflect on the material and ask questions. Then, students spend three minutes with a partner discussing the lesson, two in small groups and one with Hulse wrapping things up.
“The peer collaboration adds some safety” for students uncomfortable volunteering in front of the whole class, Hulse said.
He also knows who got the assessment questions right and can offer some quiet encouragement to students who know the right answers.
“I can say, ‘Share your thoughts,’ as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, I’m the teacher. Here’s the answer.’ I can say to a student who never contributes, ‘Here’s a boost of confidence,’ and they have 30 seconds of the floor,” Hulse said.
Lauren Brown likes to make her first-grade classroom at Heatherstone Elementary School in Olathe interactive in different ways as well.
“At that age, their questions can be complex. We were talking about polar animals, and they were curious as to how some animals could survive (in the cold),” she said.
Instead of just telling her students about the animals, she led them in an experiment to create their own fake blubber, then test it by seeing what ice water felt like with the blubber on their hands.
Another of her classroom experiments featured a study of decomposing food in plastic bags, where students observed what changed shape or color over time.
Jocelyn Cummings took advantage of the technology available to her to create her own online videos to help students learn chapter notes for her math classes at Mission Trail Middle School in Olathe.
“Students are able to watch videos at home as their homework. The next day in class, we go over and practice,” she said. “There are just some really great apps that allow a different presentation of math.”
Hulse, Brown and Cummings all said that one of the biggest challenges a first-year teacher faces is learning to manage time appropriately.
“You have to balance the time factor — the time that you take putting into lessons, communicating with parents, working with students outside of the school day … as a new teacher, you’re starting from scratch,” Brown said.
The reward, though, is the interpersonal relationships they build with students.
“I get to go in and have conversations with these students. My hope is to open doors, to show them that whatever you think you understand of this world, it’s a lot bigger than that,” Hulse said.
Beth Lipoff: firstname.lastname@example.org
Horizon Award recipients
▪ Lauren Brown, Olathe’s Heatherstone Elementary School
▪ Jocelyn Cummings, Olathe’s Mission Trail Middle School
▪ Stefanie Hagemann, Blue Valley’s Prairie Star Elementary School
▪ Andrew Hulse, Blue Valley High School
▪ Brett Mach, Shawnee Mission Northwest High School
▪ Hannah Ozier, Spring Hill’s Wolf Creek Elementary School
▪ Katie Sutton of Shawnee Mission’s, Oak Park-Carpenter Elementary School
▪ Taylore Weitner, DeSoto’s Mill Creek Middle School.