SCHENECTADY — Kathleen Wylie, who was named the City School District's teacher of the year Tuesday, said she had a bit of an unfair advantage: She lives in Schenectady.
When she plans her class lessons, Wylie imagines she is planning for a class with her own children in it. And it’s not hard, because her three kids attend Central Park Middle School, where she teaches seventh-grade social studies.
“I almost feel like I’m cheating because you guys are my neighbors. Your families are my friends. Your friends are my children,” she told her students after she was surprised with the award. “I live in your community, so I just feel like I have this leg up. ... Every day when I come in, I want to make sure that my community is better.”
She and her husband, Schenectady High School social worker Nate Wylie, and their children have lived in Schenectady for the past 13 years. Wylie is in her fifth year with the district and her 13th overall as a teacher. After spending time in a neighboring suburban district, Wylie jumped at a chance to get back into Schenectady schools, she said.
“I have a core belief that when you have a skill and passion and talent, that giving that to your community has the most important value,” Wylie said.
Her skill and passion as a teacher has been developing since she was 6 years old, playing school with her friends in the basement. Her father, Joe Anastasio, has been a long-serving social studies teacher at Academy of the Holy Names in Albany, where he taught his daughter’s now-boss, Central Park Principal Tamara Thorpe-Odom.
Wylie said she was inspired to teach by the impact her dad had on the students who came through his doors.
“I wanted what he had,” she said. “Every grocery store we go in, imagine how many people’s lives he’s touched in 50 years.”
Her students said it was hard to put a finger on how she does it, but she makes class fun — even the Revolutionary War lesson that was interrupted by the Teacher of the Year announcement.
“She teaches us, but she doesn’t make it boring. She’s always there for us when we need her,” 13-year-old Aliza Diaz said. “Instead of saying the lesson, she can just talk to us; she puts fun into it.”
After an extra minute of thought, another compliment came to Aliza’s mind: “This is the one class I look forward to coming to.”
Wylie has coached basketball at the YMCA and organized a girls basketball program in Schenectady. She mentors new teachers and serves on various school and district planning groups. Nate Wylie, who has spent over a decade at Schenectady High School, said his wife never stops teaching.
“It’s who she is. It’s not something she turns on and off,” he said. “It’s what she does all day.”
After handing her a bouquet of flowers in front of her students and family — her three kids stepped out of class to join the surprise — Superintendent Larry Spring highlighted Wylie’s close connection to her students.
“I love how connected she is to each of your lives,” Spring told Wylie’s class. “I wish I had a thousand teachers just like Mrs. Wylie.”