BY MARY ELLEN FLANNERY
2020 National Teacher of the Year Tabatha Rosproy
Meet the new National Teacher of the Year! Preschool teacher Tabatha Rosproy, a Kansas-NEA member, is the first early childhood educator to win the honor, which is given annually by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
“I am so honored to have been chosen to represent the incredible educators in our nation,” said Rosproy, in a statement. As National Teacher of the Year, Rosproy said she hopes to shine a light on the importance of early childhood education, and also on the “powerful role of social-emotional education at all ages.”
Rosproy, who has taught for 10 years, teaches in a rare, intergenerational program—a preschool located inside a retirement community and nursing home in Winfield, Kansas, a small town near the Oklahoma state line. Her classroom is a loving, multi-generational space where preschoolers, including some with special needs, interact daily with residential volunteers, called “Grandmas and Grandpas,” who help foster a sense of community and connections.
“It’s the most joyful experience you can imagine,” Rosproy told CBS News. “[The children] come into our class and not only do they get love and connection from the teachers and staff, but they get it from the grandmas and grandpas…They get connected to people who are older than them, who have different abilities, and it has built so much empathy in their hearts.”
Rosproy was chosen from among four outstanding national finalists—all state teachers of the year and NEA members—who included: Chris Dier, a Louisiana high school history teacher who engages students around identity and culture; Leila Kubesch, a committed advocate for foster youth who “age out” of the system and an Ohio middle school teacher of Spanish and English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL); and Linda Rost, a high school science teacher in rural Montana whose students have excelled in national and international competitions.
She replaces outgoing National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson, a Virginia Education Association member who most recently has taught inside a juvenile detention facility.
“Tabatha is a great example of how educators transform the lives of their students,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, who congratulated Rosproy on behalf of NEA’s 3 million members. “Investing in our youngest students is investing in America’s future, and Tabatha does that every single day,” while also investing in social- and emotional-learning and acknowledging the importance of community engagement. These are attributes of an outstanding, model teacher, said Eskelsen García.
A Focus on Relationships
Since schools have physically closed, Rosproy has been meeting with her young students, one-on-one, in video chats. She told reporters she’s been “jumping on beds with students, all over their houses, inside their closets!”
In her physical classroom, Rosproy is able to offer direct social-emotional instruction in a “place that’s rich with opportunities to solve conflicts and interact with peers,” she says. “We say it’s part of preparing them for the future, but it’s actually prepared them for right now!”
Still, the situation is less than ideal. Virtual education isn’t right for everybody, and not all Kansas families have access to broadband. It’s a rural state. For Rosproy, whose number-one priority always is building relationships, it’s more challenging to do that work on a pixilated screen than a safe, secure physical classroom, full of loving adults.
Before Kansas schools physically closed in March, as a state leader in public education, Rosproy served as co-chair of an emergency, statewide task force to plan for continuous learning. “It started as a ‘what-if’ situation, but the day we completed it, it was like a real situation,” she told NEA Today last month.
Now, she and others are looking ahead to the fall. If health officials recommend an extension of virtual learning, there has to be a focus on equity, she said. All students must have access to the current tools of learning. “Think about those barriers,” she said. “If you don’t have internet at home, can you imagine pulling into the McDonalds parking lot with three kids and one laptop in the car, and trying to get them to do work?” she asked.
But, even more important, “there has to be a real focus on relationships,” said Rosproy.
“Because that’s what there is in life: me and you. That’s what’s important,” she said. Everything else—the literacy lessons, the deep dive into advanced math, and so on—relies on a positive, committed relationship between teacher and student. “The willingness to do the work comes from that connection that you and I have,” she said.