Northwest student Erin Fleharty and alumnus Dimitric Edwards are among several winners of the Missouri Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s Outstanding Beginning Teachers award for 2021.
This award is given out to first- and second-year teachers every other year who have found creative ways to make an impact on students' lives.
Edwards and Fleharty were named to this award during the virtual Missouri Association of Colleges for Teacher Education spring conference March 9.
Edwards received a bachelor’s degree in English elementary education in 2018 and his master’s degree in education in curriculum and instruction in 2020. He currently teaches English language arts at Truman High School in Independence, Missouri, where he sees nearly 120 students between 9th and 12th grade daily.
Initially, Edwards said he had no idea about the award and recalled thinking the email containing the news of his recognition was spam. It wasn’t until the principal of the school, Ronda Scott, forwarded Edwards the email confirming his selection he believed its legitimacy.
Edwards remembered the heightened emotions and overwhelming sense of joy he felt when receiving the announcement of his selection.
“I just didn’t think that being nominated for something like this was ever in the ballpark,” Edwards said. “Because in my mind, and what I say all the time, especially to my kids is like, ‘I just show up.’”
Edwards said he questioned himself a number of times on why he was selected for the award because he didn’t consider anything he was doing to be over the top when compared to other beginning teachers at Truman High. Hearing others inform him of how his students rave about his classes helped him to see why he was given the award.
On top of being a teacher, Edwards is the school's assistant girls tennis coach, and he works with the Strategy Club and the Equity and Diversity Team.
To further recognize his award, Edwards received a large white flag which he hangs across from his desk in Room 205.
“In terms of future success, it reaffirms that, like, what I feel like are the normal day-to-day, it’s working; someone sees value in what I'm doing, so you know, ‘if it's not broke, don't fix it.’”
Like Edwards, Fleharty recalled believing her nomination was a scam.
Still a couple months out from graduation, Fleharty is already teaching fifth graders full time at Minnie Cline Elementary School in Savannah, Missouri. She will graduate in May with a bachelor’s in elementary education with a concentration in language arts.
Fleharty has been substitute teaching in many school districts since her sophomore year at Northwest. Since Fleharty already had experience substitute teaching at Minnie Cline Elementary School, the school was confident that she was ready to take on a class of her own even before officially receiving her college degree.
“Ever since my first-grade year I've always wanted to become a teacher, so it's always been in my blood,” Fleharty said.
Describing teaching as the only thing she’s ever known, Fleharty remembered always being the one who’d volunteer during recess to help other students who had been absent get caught up on schoolwork.
Fleharty said her inspiration draws from having many amazing teachers throughout her years of education.
Since her freshman year at Northwest, Fleharty said associate professor Sue Wood has been her biggest role model and go-to person whenever she found herself struggling or was unsure of her next step. Wood has been Fleharty’s professor all throughout her journey as a student at Northwest.
“She’s just the person that you could always count on in this department to represent us well and to have a voice in plans that we would have in the department,” Wood said.
Wood described Fleharty as kind, loyal, hardworking, professional and one of the most pleasant people she’s been around. She said Fleharty’s recognition for the Outstanding Beginning Teacher award was well deserved.
“I’m just tickled for her, couldn't be any prouder,” Wood said.
Fleharty said that she can sometimes be a bit of a self-critic, so receiving this award helped to reassure her that her teaching is making a positive impact on the lives of her students.
“It's taught me that no matter what I'm feeling on the inside about my lessons and how I feel about my teaching that it's being observed from different perspectives and that they’re seeing me do well,” Fleharty said. “I think it just has helped me gain that confidence and that assurance that I'm doing the right things; I'm doing it the right way and making an impact on the students.”
Her advice to beginning college education students is to get experience in the classroom as much as possible, to get a substitute teaching certificate and to use days off to substitute teach.
Fleharty said that although her name was on the award, others who guided her to becoming the successful teacher she is today also won the award with her.
“I also want to use it to help my students to say, you know, anything is possible,” Fleharty said. “I didn't expect to get this, but with hard work and never giving up, I got to where I am today and got this award.”
The biggest takeaway Fleharty learned from being honored with the award was to remind her students that no matter how they feel about themselves, she sees potential in them to get where she is today and beyond that.