By Aaron Retherford
Susan Koch, Vermont’s 2016 Teacher of the Year from Union Elementary in Montpelier, always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She has always loved working with kids, and teaching is a great occupation to continue learning and solve that puzzle of how to meet kids’ needs.
However, her second career choice would have been an astronaut.
Her tenure as Vermont Teacher of the Year allowed her to live that career choice when she attended space camp with other teachers of the year in Huntsville, Alabama last July. Koch described how she was pushed out of her comfort zone at space camp, becoming the theme of Koch’s episode of Northwest Evaluation Association’s podcast “Leading from the Classroom.”
“It’s pretty easy to kind of do what you know. You can get stuck in a rut and do the same thing over and over and over,” Koch explained. “All of us including teachers, learn best and work best when we have something new and exciting to explore and investigate. The more excited we are as educators, the more excited our learners will be. I think the concept of going outside your comfort zone and trying new things creates a sense of wonder and excitement that is what the best learning is all about. I think that’s the profoundness of it. It is really how we all learn.”
Koch, in her ninth year teaching at Union Elementary, has also taught at Barre Town Middle & Elementary School. She said she thinks teachers and parents have a duty to raise kind and thoughtful critical thinkers.
She also has encouraged and developed the Educating Children Outdoors (ECO) Program, which has been incorporated schoolwide at Union Elementary, allowing students to form a bond with nature as part of their learning experience one day a week.
“It’s basically an outdoor learning experience for kids. The big idea is to have the kids become the stewards of our planet. They’re the people who are going to need to take care of our environment,” Koch said. “In order for them to do that, they have to develop a love for nature and a connection to nature. That’s the guiding principle of our program, learning how to care for our environment. Surprisingly, even here in Vermont, there are quite a few kids who rarely go outside to play.”
Koch believes Vermont is on the cutting edge of education practices and innovative models in the country, mentioning Universal Design for Learning, which allows learners to show they are learning in many different ways.
So even though a new presidency has many public school teachers wondering which direction this administration will lead education, Koch believes Vermont will continue to be one of the states others look to for new ideas.
“I’m going to come into the classroom every day and teach kids and provide excellent opportunities for all kids. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s my job,” Koch said. “If we keep the students first and really think about them, we’re not going to get into too much trouble here in Vermont.”
To listen to Koch’s podcast episode, go here.