When Christine Marsh was a college student, she said she wanted to change the world. She became a public school teacher. That was 24 years ago. Now students of Marsh, Arizona’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, say she is encouraging them and teaching them skills they’ll need to do just that.
Marsh, who was awarded the honor last week by the Arizona Educational Foundation, said she focuses on her students, their needs and makes “sure that every single student feels valued and special.”
Her students know it, and in an interview, one said, “She cares for us inside the class and outside. She doesn’t just care about AP literature, she cares for us in the future and what we’re going to do to better the world after her class.”
Marsh said when she first started teaching, “one of the old timers in my building sat me down and gave me perhaps the best advice I’ve ever gotten.”
“Chris, he said, just close your door and teach,” Marsh said. “There are going to be a lot of things outside your control. You need to focus on what you can control, which is the experience that your students will have in the four walls of your classroom.”
“That luxury of focusing only on my own students is gone, though. It’s gone. It’s gone for me, and it’s gone for other teachers as well,” Marsh said. “Teachers can no longer ignore the broader realities of teaching and of doing what is best for our students. There are too many forces that are now operating against public schools.”
Marsh said that’s why she’s so thankful and grateful to have been honored as Arizona Teacher of the Year, because “winning this award will give me just a tiny bit of a broader voice from which to advocate for my fellow teachers, for students and for public education as a whole.”
In his recommendation letter, Scottsdale Unified Superintendent Dr. David Peterson wrote that Marsh already is an advocate for education.
“Even though she is extremely involved in supporting and motivating her students, she rarely misses a governing board meeting,” Peterson wrote. “She stays current on educational issues and shares them on the blog she writes for the Arizona K12 Center.”
Marsh also “does all of this while also making sure her students’ essays are graded and returned within 48 hours,” Peterson said.
Peterson also noted that Marsh “also coordinated with our state legislative leaders to visit her class and interact with students so that they can see firsthand the importance of public education.”
At the award luncheon, Marsh was surrounded by her mother, best friends, aunt, colleagues, governing board members and assistant principal, but two important people who prepped her for her interview, proofread her essays and helped her decide what to wear were not able to make it.
“Neither of my sons could be here today, because they are both in college right now,” Marsh said. “One is actually teaching right now as I speak. He’s teaching freshman chemistry up at NAU, and the other one is taking classes.”
When Marsh told her eldest son, who has been a student in her class, that she was nominated months ago, she said he told her she would win.
“I was like, ‘Come on, honey, there are so many fabulous teachers in Arizona, what are the chances of me winning this,’ ” Marsh said.
At the awards luncheon, the audience viewed videos of Marsh and the teachers named Ambassadors of Excellence, who were finalists for the Teacher of the Year honor, in action in their classrooms.
The Ambassadors of Excellence are Jennifer Anglin, an eighth-grade English teacher at Flowing Wells Junior High School in Flowing Wells Unified School District in Tucson, Angelia Ebner, a fifth-grade teacher at Maricopa Elementary School in the Maricopa Unified School District in Maricopa, Beth Snyder, sixth-grade science teacher at Akimel A-al Middle School in the Kyrene Elementary School District in Phoenix, and Mike Vargas, ninth-grade physics teacher at Pinnacle High School in Paradise Valley Unified School District in Phoenix.
“I was content with just being in the top five,” Marsh said. “I am deeply, deeply honored and excited to have this opportunity to continue advocating on behalf of education from a slightly larger platform.”
Q: What makes teaching so rewarding?
A: Watching as the light goes on in kids’ eyes. Literally, you can see it, and it is like magic.
I love the students. I love watching as the light goes on as they start to process something and when their passion gets ignited about whatever it might be.
There is no greater job. I really do believe I have the best job in the world.
Q: How important is support for new ideas?
A: Scottsdale Unified School District makes it a point to celebrate innovation, and administrators say yes before automatically saying no.
When I go to any of them with an out-of-the-box idea – of which they could probably attest that I have too many – I hear from my site administrative team and from my superintendent something to the effect of let’s see how we can make that work. Even if it means more work for them.
The positive impact that a yes versus a no attitude can have on a staff is amazingly powerful.
I’m grateful to work in a district that works with me.
Q: What are some of the important issues in education right now and what should be done about them.
A: Obviously, the lack of funding is incredibly important.
Across the nation, public education is to some extent under attack and teachers also. I think that probably the most important aspect to me is this false narrative that public education is failing, because it’s not.
Like I always say, Yes, I know I’m blessed because I teach kids who come to me with their needs met. Very few of them come to me hungry or cold.
But the fact that amazing things happen shows me that public education is not failing. If anything, we’re failing our kids by sending too many others to school hungry and cold.
Q: What was it like when they called your name?
A: When they first called me, I was, do I actually have the little speech here? Because we were told on Thursday to have prepared something to say, which freaked me out because I don’t like to think ahead like that. I was like, OK, I better do this if I do win.
Q: What will you do next?
A: I’m going to text a Remind 101 to all my classes, because they are anxiously awaiting at school.
Video: Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year Christine Marsh