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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The twelve finalists for Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year were announced Tuesday at the Oklahoma History Center. The State Teacher of the Year will be chosen from among those twelve teachers.

Each year public school districts select their teacher of the year and submit that name and application packet to the state for consideration. The selection process of coming up with the twelve and then the teacher of the year is carried out by a panel of educators, lawmakers, and civic leaders. The process is not just dependent on the packets and videos of teaching submitted but also on interviews.

Tuesday, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister cited the important work the teachers have been doing.

“These 12 educators represent some of the best teaching talent in Oklahoma,” said Hofmeister. “These finalists are exceptional examples of the tremendous impact one person can make in the lives of kids. Each one of these teachers demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to the success of each of their students and are highly deserving of this honor.” 

At the end of the program, Hofmeister acknowledged the pandemic’s disruption of the education process and the harsh effects on parents, students, and teachers.

“It’s been a tough, tough past 18 months,” the uncharacteristically somber Hofmeister said.

And, the current State Teacher of the Year for 2021-22, Jessica Eschbach also praised the finalists reminding them, “you deserve to be here. I am honored to be in your presence.”

The group represents a broad spectrum of teachers, teaching styles, school districts, and classroom settings.

Metro represented

This year, one of the twelve finalists is a teacher at Moore Alternative School and Treatment (MAST) in Moore Public Schools. The school takes in kids who are 7 – 12 years old. Some have been adjudicated.

Free Press talked to Kortni Torralba, Therapeutic Educator at the school about her work there.

teacher of the year
Kortni Torralba, Therapeutic Educator Moore Alternative School and Treatment (Moore Public Schools) on right is congratulated by Supt. Joy Hofmeister after Torralba and eleven others were announced as finalists 10-26-21. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

She told us that “education is not necessarily our first priority” since the students who come to them have so many disruptive personal and family issues when they first arrive but it is a part of the process they use to “empower these kids.”

Mental health is the first goal for many whose memories of school are all of struggle and perceived failure.

“When they come in, I always say, you know, do you like school? And they always say ‘no.’ And I understand. Why would they like something that they struggled so hard to achieve success at?”

Torralba said that at first, her effort is to just find something they can do where the student can feel any kind of success. Then they build on that.

But, for her students, success doesn’t come unless she knows them personally. She said that she knows their favorite color, their favorite foods, what they did last weekend, and other interpersonal connections that pull her students into the process toward success.

We asked what it feels like to go to graduation.

“Oh my gosh, you know, since I became a mother, too, it’s enormously emotional. I mean, you see these kids and just because you know, and I think that’s the big thing with alternative school kids.”

“Knowing all the challenges they’ve had, when I see that kid walk across the stage at graduation, it’s immensely rewarding,” said Torralba.

But, the graduation push is not the path for success for every student in the circumstances some of Torralba’s have been in.

For some, success is finding a great career tech program that will teach them how to make a very solid income whether they have graduated from high school or not.

“So, even if it’s not always graduation that’s the marker of success, you know, you learn, to take any marker of success as progress,” she said with a big smile.

The Twelve

The following is information the State Department of Education provided the press for each of the finalists. One of these finalists will be named Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.

  • Shannon Altom, 11th Grade English Language Arts Teacher
    Bixby High School (Bixby Public Schools) 

    “My basic philosophy of teaching is that every student has the ability to learn and to reach the best possible outcome for themselves. They will thrive if met with the encouragement to try, a sincerity of purpose, a sense of humor to lighten the atmosphere, and a mutually respectful relationship. This is the environment I strive to create in my classroom every day.”
  • Tina Dewey, Special Education Teacher
    L.W. Westfall Elementary School (Choctaw/Nicoma Park Public Schools) 

    “Every child is different physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. It is imperative that we, as teachers, work to both understand and appreciate these differences. We must teach in accordance with these differences to reach every student and help them succeed.” 
  • Emily Freise, Speech Language Pathologist
    Greenwood Elementary School (Tahlequah Public Schools) 

    “I believe that some of the greatest contributions I have made in the field of education fall into two categories: helping students build life-long communication skills and training future educators. It is a blessing to work with students in elementary and help them build effective communication skills that will last them the rest of their lives.”  
  • Kerry Ingersoll, Kindergarten Teacher
    Bethel Lower Elementary School (Bethel Public Schools) 

    “Teaching today is so much more than curriculum and grades. So many of our students are coming to us hurting and broken. While it may not be our job to heal their hurts and break generational trauma, it is our job to love and lead with high expectation. It is our job to speak life into children so we can light their world with new opportunities.”
  • Cindy Johnson, 10th-12th Grade Mathematics Teacher
    Collinsville High School (Collinsville Public Schools) 

    “There are many rewards in teaching! One is hearing my students mention that they enjoy coming to my classroom. I strive to make my students’ time a comfortable experience every day. I want them to know that I am always here for them no matter what they need. Greater rewards are seeing my students graduate and move on to being successful in the world.”
  • Rebecka Peterson, 10th-12th Grade Mathematics Teacher
    Union High School (Union Public Schools) 

    “Teaching high school was never part of the plan. This job found me, not the other way around. However, aside from my family, this job offered me my life’s greatest gift: It revealed my purpose and exposed a passion I cannot deny. I feel alive when I am with my students. I love who I am when I am with them. This job is my calling.”   
  • Juan Renteria, Jr., Fifth Grade Teacher
    Truman Elementary School (Norman Public Schools) 

    “As teachers, it is so important that we highlight the power of inclusivity and collaboration. These two core values work hand-in-hand and serve to positively affirm the identity of our students while bringing greater value to our collaborative efforts despite any cultural, political, religious or socioeconomic differences.”  
  • Donna Ross, Fourth Grade Teacher
    McKinley Elementary School (Tulsa Public Schools) 

    “My love for teaching causes me to create an environment that is filled with energy. Every day’s an adventure filled with learning for my students and me. While presenting a lesson, I become just as entertaining as my competition – television, video games, iPad and social media. My love for the job re-energizes the learning culture of my classroom.”  
  • Shelley Self, Ninth-12th Grade Art Teacher
    Coweta High School (Coweta Public Schools) 

    “We have to find new, innovative ways to engage our students and provide the means to provide motivation along with learning. We live in a digital world, and we must embrace and bridge these learning gaps. We have to provide opportunities to explore with both new and traditional methods. Teachers need to become collaborators with their students and help them find the passion and confidence for success.”
  • Kortni Torralba, Therapeutic Educator
    Moore Alternative School and Treatment (Moore Public Schools) 

    “I want to be an inspiration for my students, especially the child for whom everyone else has exhausted all possibilities. While I may not have always planned to be a teacher, from the moment I stepped in the classroom, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.”
  • Sheila Treadwell, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher
    John D. Moeller Primary School (Snyder Public Schools) 

    “My greatest accomplishments are about three feet tall and cannot wait to come back to school the next day to see what fun things we will learn about. I call these accomplishments my PreK kids! I want my students to have fun learning, feel loved, be confident, take risks and have compassion for others. When this happens, I have made a huge impact on their learning.”
  • Lauren Vandever, Seventh Grade Reading Teacher
    Bristow Middle School (Bristow Public Schools) 

    “Teaching is like climbing a mountain. We have to rely on our own strength to get to the peak, but we also have to be willing to care for the mountain on our way to the top to create a rewarding experience for those who come next.” 

Last Updated October 26, 2021, 9:45 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor