Teaching Profession

Tabatha Rosproy Is the First Early Childhood Educator to Be National Teacher of the Year

By Madeline Will — May 21, 2020 5 min read
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Tabatha Rosproy, a preschool teacher in Winfield, Kan., has been named the 2020 National Teacher of the Year.

Rosproy is the first early childhood educator to receive the national honor in the program’s 68-year history. In the announcement today on CBS This Morning, she said she was “overwhelmed with joy” and “honored to represent what’s best about education and all of the incredible, hardworking people that are educators in our country.”

“I think for a long time, early childhood educators have fought for the legitimacy our K-12 peers have, ... to be seen as professionals and be valued for the work we do,” she said in an interview with Education Week. Receiving this honor, she said, feels like it’s a “huge step” forward for early childhood education.

Rosproy teaches at a public preschool that’s housed in a local retirement community and nursing home. The community members visit her classroom daily as “grandparent” volunteers, and the preschoolers visit the nursing home every day. The program serves at-risk, special education, and typically developing preschoolers, and it has the highest preschool literacy and math scores in the school district.

“It is the most joyful experience that you can imagine,” Rosproy said on CBS This Morning. “They are connected to people who are older than them, who have different abilities, and it has built so much empathy in their hearts.”

In a video played by CBS This Morning, one of the community members said Rosproy teaches the children the values of “equality, love, [and] respect.”

“She makes us be kind to everyone,” a preschooler said.

Even with her school building shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, Rosproy has stayed connected to her students, parents said on the video. She mailed each student bins with sensory toys, which were their favorite part of the classroom, and put pinwheels in her students’ yards.

“I think that social-emotional learning is one of the most important things that we can offer our students in preschool and at all ages,” Rosproy said on CBS. “It is something that every person needs, and something I plan to advocate for as National Teacher of the Year.”

Advocating for social-emotional learning feels even more important during this pandemic, Rosproy told Education Week. Teachers have a responsibility “now more than ever” to help students think critically and regulate their emotions.

“At first, I was nervous to be named National Teacher of the Year during this pandemic because I wondered if I was able to make a difference,” she said. “This is a more important time than I even imagined—educators, families, and students are under so much stress, and here I am in this elevated position getting to represent them.”

Her message to teachers, she said, is that she sees the “hard work and the long hours and the innovation they’re putting in.”

“I’m encouraged by the future of education,” Rosproy said. “I just want them to know, it’s OK to make mistakes during this. We’re really reinventing [school].”

White House Ceremony Postponed

Rosproy was selected by a national committee from a group of 55 educators who hail from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and U.S. territories. The committee includes representatives from 17 education and community organizations and is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The other finalists were Chris Dier, a high school history teacher in Chalmette, La.; Leila Kubesch, a middle school Spanish and English-as-a-second-language teacher in Norwood, Ohio; and Linda Rost, a high school science teacher in Baker, Mont.

Every year since 1952, there has been a White House ceremony to honor the national winner and the other state teachers of the year. In most years, the president receives the award winners. (Last year, President Donald Trump made headlines for his initial decision to not meet with the honorees, but he ultimately invited the teachers into the Oval Office for a surprise meeting. Two state teachers of the year, however, boycotted the ceremony in protest of Trump’s policies.)

This year, the White House ceremony has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We hope to reschedule when it is safe to do so,” said Carolyn Phenicie, a CCSSO spokeswoman. “Our goal, as in years past, is to give the National Teacher of the Year the opportunity to meet with and be honored by the country’s top officials.”

In a February interview with Education Week and the other finalists, Rosproy said if given the opportunity, she would ask Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to “go out to classrooms and visit and see what incredible things are happening.”

“I think in the way that we don’t know the day-to-day of what’s going on in Capitol Hill, they probably don’t realize all the amazing things that are going on in rural Montana, in Louisiana, in Ohio, in Kansas,” she said. “And I would ask for their continued support on the programs that we have in existence and the bountiful ideas that our teachers have to make it even better.”

Rosproy will take the year off from teaching duties to be a national advocate for the profession. Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher who works with students at a Richmond, Va., juvenile detention center, won the national award in 2019.

Honoring All Teachers

Meanwhile, the Indiana Department of Education announced this week that instead of naming a single 2021 Teacher of the Year, every teacher in the state would receive the honor.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought new complexities and challenges to schools with no advance warning,” said Jennifer McCormick, the state superintendent, in a statement. “Teachers across our state have displayed a level of flexibility and commitment, underscoring the fact Hoosiers really are #INthisTogether.”

And in Georgia, the 2020 Teacher of the Year will continue her service for another year, instead of the state selecting a 2021 honoree. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the state education department felt that a new winner would have lost out on opportunities due to school building closures and other restrictions.

Additional changes to the selection process might also be happening in other states during this unprecedented school year. Phenicie said it’s too early to say whether these changes might affect the 2021 National Teacher of the Year selection process, but CCSSO is “committed to recognizing and supporting a new NTOY next year.”

Photo provided by CCSSO

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.