UW-La Crosse alumna Katy Smith was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year on Sunday, May 1.
But she’s not a typical teacher; Smith’s students at Goodview School in Winona are primarily grownups. As an Early Childhood Family Education/parent teacher, she helps parents struggling to understand why their seventh-grader screams at them or their two-year-old cries for no reason. She helps adults maneuver on the bumpy road of parenting.
“What I hope all students do is stop, slow down a bit and understand the inner workings of their children — how they are wired, learn best and what motivates them,” Smith explains. “We need to invest in these early childhood years because it really does pay off in the long run.”
Smith is the first ECFE teacher to win the prestigious award in its 47-year history. “Education in the early years is a hot topic right now,” notes Doug Dooher, staff coordinator for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year program. “People are beginning to realize that a good early childhood education experience is the foundation on which all other education can happen.”
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from Winona State University and started working with parents in the Winona School District in 1989. She returned to school to earn her master’s degree from UW-L in 2003.
UW-L’s Master in Education – Professional Development Learning Community program was a great fit because the schedule allowed her to juggle a full-time job and raise three kids. She could also tailor the program to meet her educational interests — specifically teaching adult learners, she said.
“It helped make crystal clear what I was good at, focus on it and get even better at it,” she says.
Smith said her first job out of school as a social worker was hard work. She was repairing broken families with long histories of chemical dependency. She prefers the more proactive work she does today — building family bonds before they are broken.
As Lisa Gray, a Winona School District parent, attests on her blog, “What many parents will say is that she has ‘saved their life;’ myself included,” she writes. “…the healing balm of Katy is known well in these parts.”
Education Minnesota, the 70,000-member statewide educators union, organizes and underwrites the Teacher of the Year program. Smith is one of 350 teachers nominated for the award and one of about 55,000 K-12 teachers in Minnesota. She will be Minnesota’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year for 2012.