By Morgan Jackson, Features Editor
Katie Thompson is a kindergarten teacher at Shawnee Early Childhood Center and was named Shawnee Public School’s teacher of the year. She has been teaching kindergarten for six consecutive years at SECC. She graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University.
Thompson is honored to receive this title.
“I am still recovering from the shock of being selected as Shawnee Public Schools Teacher of the Year. This recognition comes at a critical point in my teaching career,” Thompson said.
Thomspon credits her success and decision to become a teacher to the adults in her life who guided her way.
“I have always said the adults in my life: my teachers, caregivers, mentors, and parents inspired me to pursue teaching as a career, but my students and my own daughter motivate me to keep teaching” Thompson said. “Because I idolized my educators so much, I felt like I was not good enough to become a teacher, so I settled for becoming an astronaut.”
Thompson had a mentor in her later high school years that helped her find that her true calling was to education. They often went on walks and discussed.
“One day on one of our walks she told me to interlace my fingers together and hold my hands,” Thompson said. “Then she asked me to describe how it feels to hold my fingers and hands this way. I told her, ‘It just feels right and natural. My hands fit together perfectly this way.’ ‘That,” she said, ‘is what your calling in life should feel like. It should fit you perfectly and it should feel natural and right.’ That was a profound moment for me. Before I could let go of my hands, I instantly knew that I was called to teach.”
It is evident that Thompson cares deeply about the children in her classroom. She believes that relationship is an important part of education.
“Teaching is my creative outlet and I am drawn to the challenge of meeting my students’ needs,” Thompson said. “But for me, the most rewarding aspect of teaching is the relationships I have with my students.”
Thompson also ensures that students feel safe and secure in her classroom.
“My students come from diverse backgrounds and many of them have childhoods that are very different from my own,” Thompson said. “I know I am the only safe adult for some of my kids and that drives me to be present with them every day. I could tell you stories that would break a grown man’s heart. My kids set my priorities straight. Each day before I get out of my car and walk into my school, I remind myself, ‘Someone in there needs me to open my heart and be 100% present today.’ I am far from perfect, but I try to do just that. What I have learned is that whatever you offer to others, you strengthen in yourself.”
Kindergarten is often the first time students are in a traditional classroom, and Thompson hopes to ease the transition for her students.
“For many of my students, my classroom is their first experience in school. I get to give them their first habits and skills as little students and tiny citizens,” Thompson said.
Thompson also gets to witness her students experience many things for the first time.
“It is exciting, terrifying, outrageous, and downright hilarious to teach kindergarten,” Thompson said. “I also get the front row seat to a five-year-old’s first time going to the zoo, watching a seed sprout, seeing an airplane up close, and holding a dinosaur bone. There are moments throughout the year when you know your students are going to remember this for the rest of their lives. I get to create those exciting memories and experiences.”
Thompson enjoyed her time in school and had good experiences with those around her.
“I am a product of the public school system in Oklahoma,” Thompson said. “I have always felt comfortable in the school setting and I used to cry when school was out for holidays or breaks. I have always loved learning and being around my teachers and peers. I was the kid who had to work hard to learn, it did not always come easy to me. Regardless, I still made good grades and was the best student I could be. I was very fortunate to have such a positive school experience from daycare all the way through college.”
Thompson hopes that people will stay informed about the issues that are surrounding public education in the state of Oklahoma.
“As an educator I feel like it is my responsibility to educate my family and friends about what is taking place in my classroom and how the way my community votes impacts myself and my students,” Thompson said. “I have open conversations about my students’ needs and how bills and policies can affect them, both positively and negatively. The recent walkout was very hard for me and I still have mixed feelings about it. However, I am so pleased to hear more people talking about, protecting, and supporting public education.”
With so much still up in the air regarding education at the state level, Thompson encourages people to research and learn about the things that affect education and its funding.
“When a supporter asks me what I need most for my classroom, my first response is always this: Get to know your representatives and have conversations about public education with them,” Thompson said. “We need you to go to your polling place informed about the bills and issues on both the local and state levels. Our kids are depending on your ballot to make their future sustainable.”