“Saber es poder. Knowledge is Power.” She stood before her 9 a.m. Spanish IV class, reiterating her motivating montre, three simple words that cure baggy eyes and high school stereotypes, as these students want to know more. Eager for what is to come and where life will take them, a classroom of seniors recite back “Saber es poder.”
Maryville High School Spanish teacher Sandra Wood leaves a lasting impression on her students long after graduation. This is one reason, among many, the Maryville Public School District and community aren’t dumbfounded by her recent accomplishments — a shot at Missouri Teacher of the Year.
Wood is in the finalist pool for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s “Missouri Teacher of the Year” award. Among seven other finalists, Wood has been narrowed down from more than 240 state-wide nominations through a rigorous application and interview process conducted by the Missouri DESE.
Wood said she is grateful to have made it this far in the state nomination process.
“I feel very lucky, and it’s very humbling because there are a lot of people who could be in this pool,” Wood said. “There are a lot of really good teachers, and when I look at other teachers in the building and in our region and I think, ‘Wow, what have I done that’s so special?’”
A committee comprised of teachers, business leaders and educational organization leaders will choose the Missouri Teacher of the Year following interviews with each finalist Sept. 9. The winner, among finalists, semifinalists and regional teachers of the year will be honored at a banquet hosted by DESE Oct. 21 in Jefferson City.
MHS Principal Thom Alvarez said there are a number of reasons why Wood is a solid candidate.
“Señora (Wood) teaches in an area that is not required for high school graduation,” Alvarez said. “MHS doesn’t require a foreign language, however, she still sees more students each day than any other teacher in the school — that’s including our STEM classes.”
Wood sees about 160 students daily, bringing students from all backgrounds, possessing different aspirations into her Spanish classes.
Capitalizing on opportunity with numbers, Wood takes a group of students and their families on an optional trip to either Spain or Costa Rica through a company called Education First Tours, with the destination varying every two years. The one-year break between each gives students time to save up for the trip and plan ahead.
Alvarez said it gives students the opportunity to use and apply the skills they learned in class.
“That kind of applied learning is very valuable,” Alvarez said. “The classroom is important as well, obviously, but going out into the world and having real applications is even more so.”
MHS senior Laura Feuerbacher attended the Spain trip in summer 2018. She said it was the best trip she had ever been on.
“Señora (Wood) has had a great impact on my life,” Feuerbacker said. “She has a great way of teaching and always makes us do our best. … Not only does she teach us Spanish, but she teaches us about life.”
Two years ago, Wood went the extra mile in her teaching, noticing an unfortunate reality at the high school. She noticed that students with special needs and in those programs did not have the same access to learning foreign languages as the rest of the student body due to scheduling conflicts and curriculum unavailability.
When she came to Alvarez with the issue, the administration attempted to problem solve, but came up empty due to many conflicts. Since that day two years ago, Wood volunteers her lunch hour twice a week as well as time after school for those students.
“We have about five students from special education that come and learn either during lunch or after school,” Wood said. “I have watched how the special education teachers interact with and teach them, since I was not trained specifically for that area, and it gave me a feeling of how to do this well.”
Alvarez said her problem solving on an issue like that is why she makes such a lasting impact.
“Wood has been teaching for a long time,” Alvarez said. “We are grateful to have someone like her teaching for this district.”
Wood is on year 36 of teaching and has taught at MHS since 2005. Prior to that, she taught at North Nodaway, both as an elementary teacher and in the high school for Spanish.
“I think all teachers in this building interact with each other in a really good way,” Wood said. “I don’t think it matters what discipline you’re in; teachers are teachers. We love working with kids, and we learn how to do that from each other.”
Roosmari Pihlak, an exchange student from Estonia, is taking Spanish IV with Wood this year. She said Spanish is a great start to the day.
“She always makes it fun,” Pihlak said. “I can read the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish because of her.”
According to DESE, the Missouri Teacher of the Year program recognizes the efforts of effective teachers like Wood who provide quality education to their students. The new Missouri Teacher of the Year will serve as the state’s nominee for the 2020 National Teacher of the Year.
Wood is excited to represent MHS in the running.
“My message to kids is know and learn as much as you can, because you never know what you’re going to need to know and you never know where life is going to take you,” Wood said. “So knowledge is power … Saber es poder, knowing things and having information and skills gives you the power to do what you want in life.”