2020 West Virginia Teacher of the Year Erin Anderson at the White House during a trip in October 2021. / Photo courtesy Erin Anderson

WV Teacher of the Year reflects on recent trip to nation’s capital, struggles facing educators and what she’s learned over the past year

BUCKHANNON – Erin Anderson not only represented Upshur County as the Teacher of the Year but was subsequently named as the West Virginia Teacher of the Year and in October, she, along with the 2020 and 2021 State and National Teachers of the Year cohorts traveled to Washington, D.C.

Anderson said there were approximately 100 representatives in the group.

Anderson said their travels took them to the White House for the National Teacher of the Year Recognition Ceremony and included a meeting with Carissa Moffat Miller and Cindy Marten who is the Deputy Secretary of Education. She said while at the White House, the group was welcomed by Miguel Cardona, the Secretary of Education and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden – followed by a surprise visit from President Joe Biden who introduced himself to the group as ‘Jill’s husband.’

On Tuesday, Anderson said the group attended the National Museum African American History and Culture and attended a focus group with the Smithsonian Office of the Undersecretary before going on a Moonlight Trolley tour with 14 other teachers, courtesy of Google for Education.

“We visited all of the major landmarks and monuments and memorials in the city,” Anderson said. “On Thursday, I visited Capitol Hill and met with Senator Shelley Moore Capito and legislative correspondents from the offices of Congressman Alex Mooney, Congressman David McKinley and Senator Joe Manchin III.”

Anderson said the grand finale was Thursday evening where the attendees were guests of honor at the black-tie National Teacher of the Year Gala. She said aside from the thrill of meeting First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, her favorite part of the trip was spending time with her cohorts.

“Although we came from all over the United States, the victories and defeats we faced while teaching during a pandemic were similar,” Anderson said. “Talking about the realities of this school year with people who ‘get it’ was comforting. I have 50-plus new best friends!”

She said sharing time with her cohorts also enabled her to learn about herself.

“From what I heard from my cohorts, I learned that I brought positivity to the group, and that is a compliment to me because I try to see the good in situations,” Anderson shared. “Months ago, Dr. (Sara Lewis) Stankus (Superintendent of Upshur County Schools) helped me reframe challenges into opportunities. I love that so much, and I use that in my classroom and in professional learning communities. ‘What can we learn from this problem/obstacle?’ helps me see the benefit in turning conversations into productive action steps.”

Another experience during her trip to Washington, D.C. she said really struck a chord was Bible verse Ester 4:14, which she said Congresswoman Jahana Hayes shared with the group.

“Perhaps you were created for such a time as this,” Anderson quoted. “Many times, over the course of the past year, I’ve looked at the members of my cohort – the best of the best in our profession – in awe that I am a part of the group. And yet, here I am.”

Anderson said on of the themes running through the week she spent in Washington – which she said was not necessarily intentional – was that we are at a turning point in education.

“We are in the middle of a teacher shortage. We are clawing our way out of a pandemic. We are dealing with more mental health issues than ever before with our students, families and staff,” she said. “I kept hearing that we have to get this right. So, I carry that with me now…how can I help get this right? What am I doing to support teachers and decision-makers who are trying to get it right?”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and W.Va. Teacher of the Year Erin pose for a photo together during Anderson’s recent trip to Washington, D.C. / Submitted photo

Anderson shared that the most important lesson she learned during her time as Teacher of the Year was to ‘lean in.’

“The best lesson and the best learning comes from being a little uncomfortable,” Anderson said. “I had to jump out of my comfort zone. I knew I could motivate a room of 10-year-olds, but I did not know I could love motivating a group of teachers until the task was put before me. This honor of being the West Virginia Teacher of the Year has given me a platform to listen to, empathize with, celebrate and elevate teachers.

“The professional growth I have experienced has been exponential and has left me humbled and hungry,” she added. “I am a little sad that it is ending because I have loved meeting teachers across the state and the nation. But I am also encouraged because I get to be back in my classroom with the best group of kiddos!”

Anderson offered advice for students.

“Be present. Do not just go through the motions of school. Wonder. Ask questions. Seek knowledge. Get involved in your learning,” she said. “Everyone’s story includes a teacher. If you have ever thought of being a teacher, now is your time. Teachers light a spark. Teachers change lives. Teachers save lives. (Picture me begging.) We need teachers!”

As Anderson reflects on her time representing Upshur County and the State of West Virginia as Teacher of the Year she said that it has been an honor to represent West Virginia, Upshur County Schools and Tennerton Elementary School.

“Thank you to my family, friends and co-workers for your unconditional love and support,” Anderson said.

Anderson, who teaches fifth grade at Tennerton Elementary School, was named as the Upshur County Teacher of the Year and learned in September 2020 that she was the West Virginia Teacher of the Year. She has more than 20 years experience in education and earned her B.A. in elementary education from West Virginia Wesleyan College and her M.A. in reading from West Virginia University. She is a strong believer in the importance of building relationships with her students inside and out of the classroom.

In 2019, Anderson started ‘Move it Mondays,’ a mileage club that invites students of all abilities to run together in all kinds of weather. She believes that activity not only strengthens relationships but also builds a lifelong love of healthy habits.

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