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How to Stay Excited About Your Work

Lean into the things that excite you

The Council of Chief State School Officers has selected five finalists for National Teacher of the Year from a cohort of 55 educators. The winner will be announced in the coming weeks. Rebecka Peterson, a 10th- through 12th-grade math teacher at Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been teaching for 14 years. She is the state’s 2023 Teacher of the Year and has been touted for an 87 percent pass rate in her Advanced Placement calculus class and her passion for making math exciting and accessible for all students. SmartBrief recently asked Peterson about the importance of learning students’ stories, collaborating with other teachers and learning how to find one good thing every day, among other topics. This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and space. 

SmartBrief: A lot is asked of teachers in the US, often without getting a lot in return (whether pay, recognition or support). What can school districts and/or principals do to help teachers who are tapped out, retain educators and recruit new ones when the job can sometimes seem so overwhelming? 

Peterson: So, as I’ve been traveling around Oklahoma, the second question I asked every single teacher was "How do we recruit and retain highly effective educators?" Pay does come up, and I can tell you it does play into it. But unequivocally, every single teacher I’ve asked says it comes down to respect and appreciation. 

I think there are creative ways to show our respect as communities. Let’s talk about districts offering child care to staff and faculty. Let’s talk about paid paternity and maternity leave. Let’s have conversations regarding robust mentorship programs so that our young or our new teachers feel supported and our veteran and our career teachers can move up without moving out of the classroom.

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