Zoller Elementary School second-grade teacher Kathleen “Katie” Ferguson says her teaching philosophy is very simple: All children can learn.
“I always try to teach them to believe in themselves and mistakes are just steps toward success,” she said. “My class is always willing to try new things.”
Ferguson achieved an honor for her efforts Tuesday as she was named the New York State Teacher of the Year. Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. presented her with a certificate of recognition.
“Last week, I met with all of Schenectady’s teachers. I was struck by the dedication, passion and enthusiasm for teaching from everyone in the room,” King said in a news release. “Kathleen Ferguson embodies all those qualities as the New York State Teacher of the Year. Kathleen believes in what she does and she embraces the vital role teachers have in preparing students to be successful in an ever changing world.”
Ferguson described receiving the award as “pleasantly overwhelming.”
“It’s a tremendous honor to have the privilege of being an ambassador for the teachers of New York state,” she said.
Ferguson attributed the recognition to the amount of professional development taking place in the district. “We’re very knowledgeable about our profession. We’re dedicated to our students,” she said.
The district was fortunate, Ferguson said, to receive a grant from the Charitable Leadership Foundation a few years ago that gave teachers strategies for improving reading comprehension. She has since trained other teachers in these methods.
The district recognized her in May 2010 as its teacher of the year for effective communication and classroom management.
Ferguson runs a very strict classroom with high expectations.
“It takes kids a little while to get used to it,” she said, citing the approach as “We work the whole time.” When students think they may be done with their work, she tells them to go back and make it even better.
She also has a reward system where she gives out slips for good behavior. This year she has an ocean theme in the classroom and the slips are called F.I.S.H. for “Fantastic in School. Hurrah!” When students receive 10 slips, they earn a small prize, such as fancy pencils or stickers.
Ferguson said she has never had a year when nobody earned a prize. Students are motivated to behave.
Ferguson received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a concentration in child development. She earned a master of science degree from Russell Sage College and is certified in special education.
Ferguson, 37, has been teaching in the Schenectady City School District since 1998. She taught first grade at Martin Luther King Magnet School from 1998 to 2007 and at Zoller since then co-teaching in a class with special education teachers.
School officials praised her accomplishment.
“This is wonderful news for Katie, her students, Zoller Elementary School and our entire district,” Acting Schenectady Superintendent John Yagielski said in a news release. “Katie is a wonderful teacher and well-deserving of this distinguished honor. We are lucky to have her as a teacher and a mentor.”
Ferguson said she loves being around children because they are so innocent and loving and offer a unique perspective on the world.
“I always see the promise for kids and the hope inside and the things they can achieve. And I hope I could be a little part of that.”
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