In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, Spotlight on Walden spoke with two Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership students who are state teachers of the year. More than 60 state teachers of the year have chosen Walden to continue their education.

We asked LeAnn Morris, a K–5 technology teacher at Empire Elementary School in Carson City, Nev., and 2008 Nevada Teacher of the Year, why she decided to become an educator. LeAnn, who is pursuing her PhD in Education with a specialization in Educational Technology at Walden, said:

"My maternal grandmother, Mrs. Bernice Wille, is one of the greatest factors that influenced me to become a teacher. My Grandma Wille was a pioneer teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in the early 1920s. From the time I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a teacher like her, even though she passed away when I was in eighth grade. Many of the details she told me have been forgotten; however, all the basic principles about being a great teacher were instilled in me through her.

“Public education has changed in the 90 years since Grandma Wille taught, yet it is fascinating to me that, fundamentally, things are still the same. I treasure her complete eight-book set of 1923 Public School Methods, which she used for her lessons, in my home library today. It seems as though some people are just natural teachers. They possess a sense of understanding and boast a gift that brings out the best in all learners, from the struggling to the gifted, no matter the content. Thinking about my own great teachers, it is not that I remember the details of what they taught me, but I remember how they treated me with fairness, respect, and encouragement. This is what I strive for every day in my own classroom.”

Cheryl Conley, a fourth-grade science teacher at Osceola Magnet Elementary School in Vero Beach, Fla., was recognized as the 2011 Florida Teacher of the Year. She also was named a finalist for the 2011 National Teacher of the Year. After a brief stint in college as a substitute teacher, Cheryl fell in love with teaching and realized it was her true calling. Cheryl says she saw the difference teachers can make and wanted to be a part of that.

Cheryl, who is earning her MS in Education (MSEd) with a specialization in Teacher Leadership (Grades K–12), shared her thoughts on the qualities of a top teacher:

  • “Good teachers have many different characteristics—some are flexible, others strict. Some are energetic, others more subdued. But all good teachers have one thing in common: They try to be creative every day.”
  • “As a teacher, you must never give up. You must be persistent, even a little hardheaded. Not everything works the first time around. Not every student learns the same way. You must try different techniques and push, push, push to be an advocate for students—persistently advocate for students and for what teachers need in the classroom.”
  • “Be caring and make a genuine connection with your students. Take time to get to know your students and let them get to know you. Let down your guard. Make your classroom function as a family and create a community of learners.”

In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, the Riley College of Education and Leadership is offering more than $225,000 in scholarships to deserving educators who are making a positive impact on their school or community.

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