Teacher of the Year: Katie Keier

“I believe in listening carefully to children, building strong relationships, following their interests and creating provocations and experiences that reflect who they are.”

Kindergarten Teacher at Mount Eagle Elementary School in Alexandria, VA

Nominated by Laura McCarthy:

“Katie goes above and beyond to create a dream learning environment for her students. She has a fully loaded art studio, open seating, a pet hamster, an imagination center and a fully stocked classroom library. Student artwork hangs everywhere, and the imagination station is based off of the kids’ latest interests. Katie strongly believes that kindergartners need to learn through play. She organizes multiple field trips to farms, performances and local parks. Her students have two recesses a day: one on the playground, and the other in the front garden to encourage imaginative play. But what really makes Katie a standout educator is her ability to connect with her students and their families. She sends parents photos in her weekly newsletter and does home visits.

“Thanks to Katie, my daughter had the most amazing kindergarten experience. She immersed the students in hands-on learning. There were caterpillars to observe, pumpkins to measure, homemade play dough and sculptures inspired by Calder. These students thrived! They learned how to problem solve! But most importantly, they were happy kiddos! Katie deserves to be recognized because she does what every teacher should do — she fosters a love for lifelong learning.”

Q&A with Katie Keier

What originally got you interested in teaching?

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I can’t imagine doing anything else! I remember playing “school” from a very early age. I loved my second grade teacher, Miss Allen, and enjoyed being her helper. I would stay in from recess to grade papers and help get the room ready for the afternoon. My high school French teacher, Mme. Waters, influenced me tremendously and ultimately inspired me to choose education as my major in college.

What is the single best piece of advice you can give parents of kindergartners?

Talk with your children, and listen to them. Believe that they are capable and amazing human beings. Make sure they know that. Teach them that anything is possible.

Do you have any tried and trusted ideas or activities for motivating students?

I believe children are motivated from within when they are engaged. They’re engaged when they’re following their interests, passionate about what they’re learning and involved in inquiry and projects that excite and challenge them. I believe in listening carefully to children, building strong relationships, following their interests and creating provocations and experiences that reflect who they are. Going beyond the curriculum, we’ve explored monarch butterflies, gardening, peace, Pokemon, dinosaurs, Minecraft, maps, engineering, ramps, various art forms and more. Who knows what this year might bring? Children are capable, brave human beings that can do so much — more than we can even imagine.

What are three things you use in your classroom every day and could never live without?

1. Books. We read books all day! Our learning is anchored in the texts of our favorite authors, characters and books that are “windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors.” This is so we can see ourselves, each other, new and different worlds and people, and be able to journey to these places through our reading.

2. Blank paper books and flair pens. We write and illustrate books every day. Our stories, our knowledge and our learning experiences are shared on the pages of books we create.

3. Art and play. Children thrive when they’re in a beautiful space that celebrates their creativity. Having many opportunities to create art, enjoy art by famous artists and each other, listen to and make music, dance, create make-believe worlds and play (a lot!) makes our classroom a joyful place to live and learn together. Through art and play, kids can learn to express themselves, connect with others, solve problems, develop empathy, kindness and imagine what’s possible.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t teaching, I’d be … living a life without joy. Teaching brings me so much joy, possibility and hope for our future. I can’t imagine ever not being a teacher. It’s who I am.


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