Influential Teachers 2

A Chat with Some of the Valley’s Teachers

What makes a teacher great? Typically, the answer is rarely one that is easy to summarize in a word or two. With summer winding to a close and students across the Valley dusting off their backpack and preparing to head back to school, we asked a few of the community’s teachers to see what makes them tick.

Mary Kay Meyers, Lower School Studies, Phoenix Country Day School

Paradise Valley Lifestyle (PVL): What makes you so passionate about teaching?

MKM: Each and every day, I strive to make a positive difference in the life of a child. This may sound cliché, but it is so very true. The well-known words of Forest E. Witcraft resonate with me: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

PVL: Will you speak to what it’s like working at Phoenix Country Day School and your favorite part about it?

MKM: Our leadership is consistently exploring leading-edge educational philosophies and considers it a priority to collaborate with our faculty to implement these principles into our teaching practice. In addition, our small class size allows us more time to build valuable relationships with our students and tailor our lessons to address the needs of each child.

PVL: What is the most important thing you have learned from being a teacher?

MKM: I actually learned this from my first-grade teacher, Lillian Carey, who made me feel safe, capable and loved. Each day, when my little ones walk in the door, I want them to feel the same. If I create this environment, my students are not afraid to make mistakes, they achieve their own personal best, are quick to share their experiences and accomplishments, and “they dance as though no one is watching!”

PVL: What is the most rewarding part of your career?

MKM: Watching the children grow in self-confidence is incredibly rewarding. Throughout the year, I see the children transform as they become more aware and confident in their abilities. I see the child who begins to feel comfortable sharing his ideas, works through a disagreement with another child or finally understands a challenging concept. Not a day goes by that I’m not rewarded by my students.

PVL: What is your favorite piece of advice to give to students?

MKM: Be kind. At the end of the year, we talk about what we’ve learned throughout the year, recall our favorite events, our proudest moment, etc. I am always thrilled to hear the children say one of the things they learned was how to be kind!

Sheena Barton, First Grade, Archway Veritas

PVL: What makes you so passionate about teaching?

SB: I truly believe that one of the best parts of life is learning. Being in the classroom allows me the opportunity to grow alongside my students. It is incredibly satisfying to see a child learn to read for the first time. Seeing the lightbulb go off and the pure joy that it brings is why I go back each and every day.

PVL: Will you speak to what it’s like working at Archway Veritas and your favorite part about it?

SB: I have been a first-grade teacher at Archway going on seven years and was there for the inaugural year. My favorite part is the community. My cohort of teachers that I stand by each day inspire me and provide unconditional friendship and strive to make each other better. Also, our parent community is incredible! I have felt supported and loved by all of the families who have passed through my classroom.

PVL: What is the most important thing you have learned from being a teacher?

SB: The most important lesson I have learned from being a teacher is that I will never be done learning. I have learned new tricks to enhance my lessons each year and always stumble across concepts that I can present in new ways to reach more students.

PVL: What is the most rewarding part of your career?

SB: The most rewarding part of my career is getting to be in a classroom full of wonderful little 6- and 7-year-olds. They bring a smile to my face every day and give me a greater purpose in life. I love their funny jokes, sweet stories and truly open minds. They inspire me to find the joy in everyday things and to not take myself so seriously. I love them.

PVL: What is your favorite piece of advice to give to students?

SB: I always tell my students that they are special and can do whatever they set their mind to. It is my job to give them the tools to succeed in life, doing whatever brings them joy while also being a positive coach in their corner. Life comes with its many challenges, and if I can be a glimmer of positivity in their life, then I have done my job.

Megan Optiz, Kindergarten, Archway Veritas

PVL: What makes you so passionate about teaching?

MO: I love leading students towards truths. Sharing my own passions in history and science and seeing a 6-year-old’s face lighten up from the mysteries and the profundities found in all subjects is amazing. Knowing that I am helping shape the future in some way is incredible.

PVL: Will you speak to what it’s like working at Archway Veritas and your favorite part about it?

MO: Archway Veritas is an amazing to work at. My colleagues are courteous and some of my dearest friends. I am constantly challenged to always do better and am always given incredible support from my administration. The headmaster and assistant headmaster give me specific and direct feedback though consistent and meaningful observations. I feel incredibly supported by the front office staff who are the welcoming light of our school. The community of parents and families allow our school to thrive.

PVL: What is the most important thing you have learned from being a teacher?

MO: Patience. Working with kindergarteners, I have learned to be extremely patient. I have also learned that every child deserves the best education that fills their soul with being able to recognize truth, beauty and goodness.

PVL: What is the most rewarding part of your career?

MO: In kindergarten, seeing a child read for the first time. The light that fills that child’s eyes makes me cry. To know that they have the world at their fingertips is an incredible feeling.

PVL: What is your favorite piece of advice to give to students?

MO: We are all learners. Be bold when asking questions and to never stop learning.