Nineteen MSTA members were among the 35 teachers named 2019-20 Regional Teachers of the Year as part of the Missouri Teacher of the Year program through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Each Wednesday, a new profile will be shared online celebrating these outstanding educators. You can see profiles of all 19 MSTA members honored as Regional Teachers of the Year in the Fall 2019 issue of School & Community.

School Building: Waynesville High School
School District: Waynesville R-VI
Grade/Subject taught: 8-12/German I, II, III, IV
Years teaching: 11, this year being the 12th

What is one of your goals for this year?

To ensure a smooth transition to 1:1 in our building. I plan to educate myself on more technology strategies and employ them with my students, and promote them among colleagues to assist them with the transition as well. 

Describe yourself without using the word “teacher” or “educator.” 

I am someone who cares. I am someone who wants to make an impact. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I chose the teaching profession because I wanted to touch the future by helping students to develop intellectually and fostering the positive in their characters. By making students better at least in some ways teachers can make the future world a better place. As long as I can say that I am doing my best to achieve this purpose – I consider myself fulfilled professionally.

Education opened the entire world to me. I was born in Russia, but I have learned German and English, from my parents and in school. I always felt the passion for traveling but my family could not afford sending me abroad. So at the age of eighteen I entered a competition for YMCA-based travel program and was chosen as one of the best English speakers who got the opportunity to travel to the US. After a few months, I realized what great possibilities this country offers and decided to continue my education and life here. Now, I am a US citizen, who traveled to many other countries. None of that would have been possible without my education, and I am eternally grateful to my parents and my teachers for all the knowledge they gave me. I chose the profession of a teacher to show my students how much studying can impact and improve their lives, and to help them understand that knowledge opens doors to a future that could otherwise remain forever unavailable.

Generally, studying foreign languages is very important in our modern world, because along with learning the language students find out a lot about the culture of its native country and learn to respect and appreciate the differences. This can make people more open-minded, understanding, and tolerant. Those are irreplaceable features in our contemporary society where respect for diversity is vital. Being a foreign language teacher allows me to actively contribute to making it happen.

What is your teaching philosophy?

I am a firm believer in the benefits of differentiated instruction. As defined by Professor Carol Ann Tomlinson, it is an educational philosophy and a teaching approach that revolves around exploring, understanding, and using students’ unique differences to create instruction that employs and develops their strengths and ensures productive learning for everyone. I incorporate an element of differentiation into many classroom activities. I use ability-based grouping, different modes of material introduction and practice, varied difficulty levels of exercises, employ structures that allow for various pacing, practice student-centered lesson formats with freedom of choice in topics for projects and discussions, and adjusted forms of assessment to let students apply their strengths and learning preferences. I implement Blaine Ray’s Total Physical Response Storytelling method, supported by whole-brain teaching theory that involves acting out short German skits using costumes and props where I choose roles for students based on their interests, backgrounds, personal qualities, and educational needs.

To alleviate high demands of differentiation on teachers’ time and energy, I extensively utilize educational technology. It provides solutions for the problem of balancing differentiated learning paths of many students in the same class, time constraints, preserving proper discipline, and keeping the learners on task. In the end, I would have to say that Blended Learning would best describe my overall approach to teaching, as I merge the efficiency and other advantages of modern technologies with the proven benefits of direct instruction, peer grouping formats, and differentiation.

Describe a moment when you knew you were following your calling.

The greatest achievements as a teacher for me do not stand out as a singular event or a special award. Yes, I get a feeling of accomplishment when former students inform me that they tested out of 3 years of college German or qualified for an exclusive study-abroad program. I am beyond proud of my students when they win language competitions. My heart does fill with joy when a student is left speechless after seeing the beauty of Europe on one of our educational summer tours. But ultimately, the greatest impact of a teacher is in the daily lessons and regular communication with his/her students. When I see a student’s eyes light up as he or she grasps something new – it is a little breakthrough to me. When I hear surprised comments about a cultural habit they just learned about – I know I made an impact. When a struggling student who didn’t really believe in himself realizes to his own astonishment: “I just did it!” – this shows true progress of my profession. It is those instances that are the ultimate achievements to me, and every time I witness one I know I am following my calling. Out of those “little” instances a bigger impression is formed that the students will carry on with them into their life after school, the impression that may make them better than they were before. And to me there is no better gratification teachers can have other than knowing that we played a role in that.

What career would you like to have if you weren’t a teacher?

A travel guide, preferably for youth tours, showing the young generations the beauty and cultural richness of our world.

What’s your favorite book and why?

“An Instance of the Fingerpost,” a historical mystery novel by Iain Pears. I love historical fiction, as it takes a reader on an entertaining journey while also letting them learn so much about the era. I like this book in particular as it presents the same events from points of view of different people, and it always reminds me to try to do the same before making any conclusions, both in my profession and in personal life.

What’s your favorite school lunch?

Salad bar and soups.

If you could see one band/performer, living or dead, in concert, who would it be?

Freddie Mercury

If you could travel through time, where would you like to visit?

The future, out of curiosity because it is unknown, and in order to see if I could bring back some information to our present world that could improve what is to come.

What do you do to relieve stress?

I paint or draw, read, or exercise.

What’s something about you that your students would be surprised to  learn?

I have synesthesia and perceive all letters in colors. All the time.