A Kyrene Elementary School District teacher has been honored as one of the top five educators in the country by the nation's largest teacher union.
Sarah Baird has been a Kyrene teacher for 11 years, spending the past five as a math coach. She was recognized as the 2009 Arizona Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Education Association and has now won the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence from the National Education Association Foundation.
Baird called the award "humbling."
"I always feel like I'm a drop of water. I'm a drop and there are others in the flow," she said. "I made it into the top five, but I'm just a symbol of things going on in classrooms all over the state."
Baird received the award, which comes with a $10,000 prize, at a gala dinner in Washington, D.C., in April. She was one of four runners-up for the top prize, the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence, which was given to a Utah educator.
Baird said it was nice to represent Arizona and hear the state's name spoken of in a positive light.
Arizona is going through an education crisis, Baird said.
Budgets are part of that, but the state also needs teachers, administrators and others to sit down and figure out what kinds of ongoing support teachers need to provide a quality education for students.
"Education is just in a place where we can't sit back anymore and consider an expense. It's an investment in our kids," she said. "Whether you're in education or not in education, whether you have kids or don't have kids, every kid in every school is contributing to society and making our state and country what it is going to be."
Baird's job is to provide support to teachers. As a math coach, she works with several teachers and classrooms at Kyrene del Milenio and Kyrene del Cielo elementary schools.
That role means a variety of things, including helping teachers figure out how to teach new lessons, watching particular students to determine what kind of support they need and splitting students into small groups to give more individualized instruction.
A lot of discussions around math instruction these days involve changing the way it's taught. Instead of teaching the procedures for doing things like addition or subtraction and then applying it to a practical problem,
Baird helps bring in practical problems and then helps students figure out different ways to approach it using math.
"If you think about the way we learned mathematics, there was a structured set of procedures on how to do something," she said.
But really, there are several ways to approach the same math problem, Baird said.
She helps students and teachers work with the strategies that work best for the student while still arriving at the correct answer. Then, based on the strategies that work best for the student, the teacher can help them refine the process or try something a little more efficient, she said.
"What's hard about it is you want to let kids go about in whatever way they're thinking about it," Baird said. "Then you as a teacher need to look at their strategy."
Milenio Principal Jim Verrill said Baird's biggest gifts are her enthusiasm for math and her ability to question students to get them thinking about math and their own ways of approaching it.
"She just has an energy about her that's infectious and truly brightens our school," Verrill said. "She truly enjoys showing her enthusiasm through getting kids to get down and dig deep into math using hands on manipulatives, getting kids to think out loud and share what they know about math. She builds on what they do know and helps them grasp concepts."
Verrill thought it was "absolutely fantastic" that Baird received a national honor for her work.
"She's very deserving. I thought it said a lot about not only her as a teacher, but about the teachers we have at Kyrene," Verrill said. "Not only does she impact students, she impacts teachers."
Baird's impact is about to go statewide. This will be her last year in Kyrene; she will be moving on to the Arizona K-12 Center next year. There, she'll help with professional development for National Board Certified teachers and other educators around the state.
"I'm thrilled and excited to start there," Barid said. "I'll miss the kids like crazy, but I feel this is an opportunity to have a big impact on teachers."