Melissa Ziegler, biomedical science instructor at Four Rivers Career Center, was disappointed she did not win Missouri’s Teacher of the Year award until she realized the opportunities that had opened up to her as a finalist.
As a finalist, Ziegler will be able to share her ideas on how to improve the educational system to a statewide audience as a speaker at educational conferences across the state. And next month, she’ll talk to high school seniors interested in the field of teaching at a conference called Educators Rising.
Washington School District Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Kephart said the fact that Ziegler made it so far in the competition speaks first to Ziegler’s desire to be as good as she can but also to the culture of the Washington School District.
“I do think it speaks to the district because one of the things that we want to do throughout the School District of Washington is build teacher leaders and build teacher leaders that collaborate, facilitate, lead, support,” Kephart said. “We would certainly call her that teacher leader, but I think there’s also that when you talk with her, you can also see that drive and that passion that she has to be her best self for students.”
Ziegler said she thinks her willingness to say “yes” sets her apart from other teachers. In her nearly 20 years with the district, she has worked in roles teaching elementary, middle and high school students along with a role as an instructional leader for teachers and faculty. In that role, she took over the Project Lead The Way program at Washington, developing hands-on STEM education for the district’s elementary schools.
With her students, Ziegler said she has encouraged experimentation, which she sees as opportunities for students to grow.
“I present a real problem that (students) have some interest in and give them the opportunity to be creative and apply the things that they have learned in other classes and take away that fear of failure,” she said. “So many of our kids are like, ‘Just tell me what to do so I can get it right and move on.’ It makes them uncomfortable.
“STEM is one of those first opportunities where you are encouraged to make mistakes,” she said, “and we learn from our mistakes, and mistakes are really a part of the ongoing lesson.”