Utah's Teacher of the Year on effective education, school grades, Common Core

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 3:25 p.m. MDT

Newly named Utah Teacher of the Year, Foxboro Elementary's Allison P. Riddle, works with one of her students Ayla Honneywell in class Monday, Oct. 7, 2013.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

NORTH SALT LAKE — Foxboro Elementary School teacher Allison Riddle started her week like many others, working with students in her fifth-grade class and preparing for parent-teacher conferences.

There was little out of the ordinary, considering that on Oct. 4 she was named Utah's Teacher of the Year, an honor that includes a check for $10,000, an interactive Smart Board for her classroom, a laptop computer, a $250 Visa gift card and a future meeting with the president of the United States.

"The kids are excited. They are very excited about the Smart Board," Riddle said. "I feel kind of silly, actually. There are so many good teachers. There are dozens of amazing teachers. I’m just someone that enjoys it."

But to the administrators and staff of Foxboro Elementary and Davis School District, there is nothing silly about Riddle's win. An educator for 25 years, Riddle is known for blending both the science and art of teaching and for helping less-experienced educators develop their skills.

"It’s a huge honor to the school to have Allison not only nominated but then to win," Foxboro Assistant Principal Jake Heidrich said. "It’s very deserved by her. She is an excellent teacher."

In Riddle's classroom, nothing is an assumed skill, Heidrich said. Riddle takes the time to teach students how to line up and how to retrieve and replace materials, which contributes to more effective lessons, he said.

Heidrich also works with Riddle on a school mentoring committee for provisional teachers at Foxboro Elementary. During class periods where her students are engaged with a task they can work on individually, she'll take first- and second-year teachers into the classroom of more experienced educators to point out best practices.

"There’s a lot of great teaching in this school, and it’s great to pull these new teachers out and have them go watch it," Riddle said. "But you have to have somebody else with you that can point certain small things out."

Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said Riddle was already on the district's radar before the awards ceremony. He described her as an educator with a passion for teaching who goes out of her way to help her students, as well as her fellow educators.

"This is the first time Davis School District has ever had the Teacher of the Year," Williams said. "We’re more than pleased. We’re tickled."

Riddle said the biggest challenge facing Utah's schools — besides having the lowest per-pupil spending in the country — is an increasingly negative attitude toward public education from community members.

She said Utah teachers are doing amazing things with the resources available to them, but many people forget the role a public school plays in giving children a safe space, off the streets, where they can learn reading, writing and arithmetic.

If the public perception were more positive, Riddle said, parents would be more inclined to support teaching efforts by getting involved with their child's homework and schooling, and private businesses would be more willing to support school initiatives.

"We’re all in this together," she said. "It’s a public program that benefits everyone, not just that cute little kid that sits in that desk."

But the key to improving the public perception is trust, Riddle said, and it's up to educators to develop a trusting relationship with children and their parents.

"If (a student) has a supportive parent at home that will get on board with me and really review things every night, I can do good things," she said.

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