When Tracy Horodyski looks back on her year as Michigan Teacher of the Year, the recollections come tumbling out: the dozens of presentations she made to other teachers around the state; a national conference with all other state teachers of the year; visits to classrooms, including that of Cheryl Hutchings, her former cheerleading coach and role model, at Stoney Creek Elementary in Comstock Park.
Then there was that visit to the White House, where she met President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – a strange combination of high honor and mixed messages.
Overall, it was an active year in which she learned much, and for which she is deeply grateful, said the Kenowa Hills instructional coach.
“Everywhere I’ve gone and everything I’ve experienced is about the connections, the relationships, the community, that you feel you are part of something bigger than yourself,” Horodyski said.
She planned to pass the torch on Tuesday to Luke Wilcox, the 2017-18 Michigan Teacher of the year and high school math teacher from Kentwood, at her last State Board of Education meeting in Lansing.
All her experiences will sharpen her coaching of other teachers in Kenowa Hills, she says. And it buttressed her conviction that strong public schools need strong public support – including from the federal government, where Trump has proposed a $9.2 billion cut in education spending.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Horodyski said. “It’s hard to feel supported when you don’t see an investment of time or energy into understanding public education, education in general – what an impact educators have on students’ lives.”
More Work to Come
Horodyski is not done with her MTOY-related activities, though. She will continue her participation in the National Teacher of the Year Program for all 55 state and territorial teachers of the year. She’ll attend a policy conference in San Diego later this month and, in July, a Space Academy for Educators in Alabama. Teachers will gather in the fall at Princeton University and be honored at the national college football championship in January.
A former elementary teacher, Horodyski has served the past two years as a reading interventionist and instructional coach at Zinser Elementary. She will continue her coaching this fall at the high school, sharing her philosophy of personalized learning with other teachers.
In her year as MTOY, she gained appreciation for the importance of teachers collaborating to help students understand how to collaborate. She says teachers, like students, should ask themselves: Who am I? Why am I doing this? And why am I doing this this way?
“If we’re not intentional about what we’re doing, we’re not going to be able to meet students where they are. That is the key to equity in education. When you’re focused on how to be a learner, as part of a learning community, it levels the playing field.”
But teachers are challenged by the pressure to produce student achievement as measured by standardized tests, she cautioned, distracting them from what their prime focus should be.
“We have to be intentional about not focusing on those assessments, but focusing on our learners – who they are and who they want to become. When we focus on what we know matters, the tests just kind of take care of themselves.”
Mixed Messages in the Oval Office
A high point of her year was being honored at the White House in April along with other state teachers of the year and National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee of Boston. They were greeted in the Oval Office by the president and by DeVos, who gave her fellow West Michigander a personal shout-out.
In brief remarks from his desk, Trump told the group, “There is nothing more important than being a teacher.” In a video of the ceremony posted by The Washington Post, Horodyski can be seen briefly on the far right of the group.
However, The Post reported it was far different from past ceremonies, which were held in the Rose Garden or East Room. The National Teacher of the Year was not given an opportunity to speak as in years past, and some teachers’ family members complained about being kept in a separate building, according to The Post.
Horodyski said she had mixed feelings about the event, during which she shook hands with Trump. It was moving and powerful to be in the White House and in the company of an “amazing group of educators,” she said. But telling teachers they’re special has to be matched by resources, she added, noting that the proposed budget would cut money for the kind of professional development she does with teachers.
“If teachers are not supported as learners, we’re missing that key to meeting the needs of all learners,” she said.