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Midvale Journal

Canyons School District names teachers of the year

May 17, 2018 02:09PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Canyons School District’s top three teacher of the year finalists — Alta View’s Jamie Richardson, Corner Canyon’s Amber Rogers and Midvale Middle’s Lena Wood — were all smiles after receiving their awards in April. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Corner Canyon history and political science teacher Amber Rogers remembers that after a student was transferred into her class, she learned other teachers had grown frustrated with him. 

“I made a snap judgment wondering why he got straight F’s and what his story was,” she said. “The first day he was respectful, so I wasn’t sure what was going on.” 

Afterward, he told her no other teacher allowed students to have a discussion as she did with a dialogue about the Great Depression and that engagement got him back on track, she said.

“I’ve learned it’s the time when teachers aren’t talking when kids are learning more,” Rogers said.

Engaging students and encouraging them to think and have dialogues was part of the reason Rogers was selected as Teacher of the Year from 46 teachers representing each school in the Canyons School District. 

Rogers, as well as first runner-up Lena Wood, from Midvale Middle School, and second runner-up Jamie Richardson, from Alta View Elementary, also will be honored at a Real Salt Lake game June 2. In addition to a crystal award and a gift basket, Rogers received $1,000 from the Canyons Education Foundation, Wood received $750 and Richardson, $500. 

Rogers gives high praise to her mentor, former AP history teacher Kathy Williams at her Mesa, Arizona high school. 

“She was not only appreciated at my school, but she was highly regarded throughout the country for teaching other teachers how to teach AP history,” Rogers said. “I would forget to take notes, but instead, sit there and listen to her tell stories about individuals in history. I told her I wanted to be a history teacher; I try to emulate her.” 

Rogers said she reconnected with her teacher 10 years after she took her class to let her know she became a teacher as she vowed. After receiving the Teacher of the Year award, she sent her mentor a message.

“It’s the highest form of flattery,” she said.

However, the 10-year veteran has learned a few valuable skills of her own.

“If you give students high expectations and the tools to do them, they will succeed — even with tough tests,” said Rogers, who chairs the social studies department and is the National Honor Society adviser. “I love giving students opportunities. We went back to the president’s inauguration and whether they agreed politically or not — it’s an experience being in that kind of atmosphere, they’ll never have again. And while we were there, we got caught up in the women’s march as we tried to get to a museum — again, another experience where they can say, ‘I was there.’”

Even in her own classroom, she has experiences like the World War I simulation where students represent countries and try to come to terms with the Treaty of Versailles. 

“They try to figure out what they want, the cost, the military, the geography of Europe and how to develop strategies with others to get what they want,” she said.

She has mock congresses where students create their own legislature, and a decades projects where students not only learn about the historical events for that time period, but also share with one another the culture.

That belief in students working hard and engaging one another led to a round of applause by students and teachers coming into her classroom shortly after the announcement was made at her school that she was selected as Teacher of the Year. 

“It was really sweet and I was a little embarrassed by the attention,” she said. “It took a moment, but then I got back on track with my students’ AP test that day.”

Lena Wood

Wood also is known to be able to relate to her students. In sixth grade, her dad was sent to prison and she realized it’s the choices students make that can send them to success or into not good circumstances.

“I didn’t tell my friends and kept it quiet,” she said. “I always felt like I didn’t fit in because of it. I wasn’t good at math and struggled. It wasn’t until I discovered music that I flourished.” 

After listening to the drummer for Yanni and thinking percussion was “so cool,” Wood used her piano background to learn percussion in junior high and became involved in marching band and drumline in high school. She graduated from Weber State University with a music education degree on scholarship.

“At the beginning of the year, I told my students my story. Kids need to hear that we all aren’t super successful from the start; that we struggle. Sometimes there is a person they can relate to or something at school that gets them going. It’s OK if it’s music, dance, theater or gym. The arts are important in school and they can keep us going,” she said.

Wood, who followed her mother’s footsteps into teaching, has taught for 11 years, but said it wasn’t until she came to Midvale Middle School that she felt comfortable.

“I fell in love with the diversity here,” she said. “It’s so different. I felt accepted. Now I feel super honored to be honored. It gives me more confidence in my teaching and tells me that (I’m) doing OK. It gives my students that encouraging message." 

Jamie Richardson

When Alta View’s fourth-grade teacher Jamie Richardson learned at an assembly that she was the school’s choice for Teacher of the Year, she was “completely surprised.” Her students and former students as well as parents and colleagues nominated her. 

“I am humbled and grateful,” she said. “I’m not much for the limelight, but this has been a wonderful experience. It’s an amazing feeling to be recognized.”

One reason Richardson was nominated for the award is for what she calls “fun and silly” ways to engage students in learning.

“When they seem tired, I’ll have them give me some jumping jacks or have a ‘mingle mingle’ time and get them moving,” she said, adding that it helps them refocus. “I love working with kids and watching those ‘a-ha’ moments when they get it after helping them learn.”

Richardson said she debated teaching as a career, after watching her sister put the effort into it when she became a first-grade teacher in Jordan School District, but continued to want to teach. Her grandfather also taught woodshop at Olympus High. 

“I knew I’d have to dedicate myself to it if I chose to teach. Teaching is a life, not a job,” she said.

Richardson says she is putting the money toward IXL for math programming that can provide students problems and instant feedback. 

“I wouldn’t have gotten the award without the students, so it makes sense to give it back to them,” she said.