Third grade teacher and 2015 Appalachian State University graduate, Katrina O'Donnell, received the Hudson Elementary School 2016-2017 Rookie Teacher of the Year Award.
"It was a huge honor to be nominated by my peers," said O'Donnell. "The relationships that I have with my colleagues have really been the best asset as a first year teacher."
"Katrina O'Donnell is a wonderful teacher already," noted Principal Adam Windmiller. "She has great teaching strategies, uses excellent classroom management practices, and most importantly cares about her students and her profession."
To be nominated for Rookie Teacher of the Year, teachers must be in their first three years of teaching. There were eleven teachers, including O'Donnell, nominated for this category.
From Granite Falls, N.C., O'Donnell completed her undergraduate degree in elementary education at Appalachian through the Distance Education program. Regarding her experience, she said, "The education program at Appalachian prepared me to create standards-based lessons that are engaging for my students. It also taught me how to differentiate within those lessons to reach all students. With the diversity of children in my classroom this year, it was very helpful to have had extensive research-based materials to refer back to from my time in the program."
O'Donnell added that, when she decided to pursue a teaching career, she selected Appalachian's education program for several reasons:
- The program is well respected;
- The location allowed her to stay close to home;
- As a nontraditional student, wife and mother, the distance education courses provided needed flexibility.
Elementary education program director, Dr. Lisa Gross, describes the program at the Distance Education sites as rigorous and demanding: "Our faculty has the same expectations for cohorts at our distance sites as they do for their students on campus."
She added, "The news of Katrina's award is not surprising. She is one of many rising stars that have been recognized and celebrated for her teaching."
Professor Dr. Eric Groce noted, "I remember Katrina as an extremely bright and talented individual who is kind, creative, and understands how to connect with children. She is a selfless leader who makes everyone around her better."
Instructor Dr. Hannah Reeder added, "Katrina is a natural teacher. She brings enthusiasm to the classroom and is focused on student learning. She was a leader in her cohort and set a good example for her peers."
Building relationships with her students is O'Donnell's favorite part of teaching.
"The students are all so special and unique. The relationship helps the child to trust you when you have to push them to do the hard stuff," noted O'Donnell.
During a recent visit to her classroom, Dr. Gross witnessed this: "Katrina greeted me with that same beaming smile and energetic attitude that I remembered. It was evident her students loved her!"
O'Donnell utilizes lessons that incorporate learning projects, which allow students to put into practice the learning objectives, while also being creative. "Planning these lessons is often more work, but the payoff in student engagement and learning is always worth it," noted O'Donnell.
During her academic career at Appalachian, O'Donnell was also one of the first cohorts of students to receive the SECU Appalachian Partnership Scholarship. This scholarship assists students in the teacher education programs offered through Distance Education. The ultimate goal is for graduates of these programs to teach in their communities.
When asked what advice she would give her students who also wanted to be teachers, O'Donnell responded, "I would tell my students to follow their passion wherever it leads them. I believe there is not a more fulfilling career than teaching."