When 2014 Arizona Educational Foundation Teacher of the Year Beth Maloney was growing up, she’d play school with friends and her little sister, but planned on a career in radio or television, where she could inform and entertain an audience.
After working at a summer local summer camp, she realized being a teacher could provide the same opportunity and fulfill another desire.
“I realized I adored being around children all day, and there was a career that would actually pay me to do that for the rest of my life,” said Maloney, a fifth-grade National Board Certified teacher at Sunset Hills Elementary School in the Dysart Unified School District in Surprise.
“The best part of teaching is that it matters, but the hardest part of teaching is that every moment matters every day,” Maloney said at the Nov. 14 luncheon in Phoenix where she was awarded the Teacher of the Year honor. “To that end, I’d like to see the education of our children become a priority to every parent, citizen, and lawmaker in our state.”
“I hope to see public education valued for being the glue that holds our democracy together, and makes it stronger,” Maloney said. “That is my mission this year.”
Q: What are some important issues in education in Arizona, and what should be done about them?
A: Some issues facing public education in Arizona today are funding cuts, new teacher evaluation, system mandates, and many students living in poverty.
While some factors may be beyond our ability to immediately solve, we can improve teacher effectiveness in the classroom. A significant indicator of how successful a child will be in school is the quality of their teacher and instruction. This topic deserves careful thought and attention from our profession and policymakers.
We can advance our profession by improving pre-service teacher training by following an extended internship approach. Doctors don’t just have a semester-long internship, and I don’t believe teachers should either.
Teachers need more and better training, and must master technology to capture student interest and prepare them for tomorrow’s career demands. We need to invest in our teachers. Arizona’s students deserve it.
Q: How can parents, business leaders, and communities help students and schools?
A: Parents are crucial to their children’s education. I begin each year telling my families that the most important thing they can do for their student is prepare them to be ready to learn each day. That means being at school on time each day, getting an appropriate amount of sleep each night, and having nutritious food to fuel their bodies each day.
Business leaders and the community are also crucial to education. We must foster a partnership between businesses and schools.
Companies need innovative graduates with technological skills to fill job openings. Businesses can join with a local teacher or school to design lessons that highlight what the company excels at. The experts can provide the technical knowledge while the teacher can build age- and skill-level appropriate lessons.
School boards are vital to helping teachers building these partnerships. Together we can keep our state competitive in tomorrow’s workplace.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
A: Of the many rewards I receive daily, the best are the relationships. I am rewarded by my time with students each day. I also love daily visits from former students and their families to borrow a book, discuss a problem, or catch up.
The relationships I forge with my colleagues are deeply rooted in mutual respect based on our common goal of doing what is best for students. We grow together and learn in our professional community. I have worked with many of the same people for nine years now and they are like family to me.
I also feel very fortunate to count the Dysart Governing Board as some of my biggest supporters. I have often enjoyed visits from board members in my classroom and have been overwhelmed by their support throughout my time in Dysart.
Q: How do you get students to go deeper into concepts, motivate them, and create a classroom community?
A: Motivation is always key to reaching students, but especially middle schoolers. Much of my philosophy of teaching is based on the wisdom, “Inspired enthusiasm is contagious.” My genuine love and passion for learning is obvious to my students, is contagious and spreads like wildfire.
Making lessons and objectives relevant to the real world and giving students a purpose are crucial. When I taught lessons on solar energy, we learned that Arizona has one of the largest solar plants in the world and it could be a potential career choice. Then we put their knowledge into practice by designing and building pizza box solar ovens.
When students know they will use their learning on more than an end-of-unit test, they become internally motivated to master content.
Q: What did you do after you were named teacher of the year?
A: I hustled home to change into my camping clothes and join all my fifth graders for our fourth annual overnight field trip to the Lake Pleasant Desert Outdoor Center. The trip takes place in November every year to bond us as a community of learners and a cohort of students.
It is a life-changing event for our students. Many have never slept away from home before, and some have never gone on a hike or watched the sun rise.
We leave the experience as a community with a foundation of trust and respect for each other which creates a solid base for the rest of the school year and beyond. Our middle school teachers have expressed gratitude for the set of values we have instilled in our students.
(The interview was edited for length and clarity.)