Katie Halstead, Suffolk’s 2013 Citywide Teacher of the Year, helps second-graders Yair Garcia, Kailyn McHugh and Breon Minggia read at Elephant’s Fork Elementary School Friday. “It’s great to know that people notice your hard work,” Halstead said of the award.
Katie Halstead, Suffolk’s 2013 Citywide Teacher of the Year, helps second-graders Yair Garcia, Kailyn McHugh and Breon Minggia read at Elephant’s Fork Elementary School Friday. “It’s great to know that people notice your hard work,” Halstead said of the award.

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‘It’s in my blood’

Published 10:15pm Friday, March 1, 2013

Suffolk’s 2013 Citywide Teacher of the Year says that her own personal challenges as a first-grader drive her to ensure that her students reach their potential.

Katie Halstead said she was “embarrassed and humiliated” on discovering all those years ago that she lagged behind her classmates but was able to make up the lost ground with the help of a strong teacher.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said Friday in her Elephant’s Fork classroom, where she teaches second grade.

“I started playing school when I was little. My grandmother was a teacher; my great-aunt was a teacher; my great-uncle was a teacher; I feel like it’s in my blood.”

Asked to describe her particular approach to education, Halstead replied, “I like making boring things fun.”

After overcoming her difficulties at elementary school, reading is now her favorite thing to teach, she said, adding, “I can make books come alive and make games and activities out of them.”

Teachers are also entertainers, she said. “If you can make it fun and exciting, the kids will gravitate to it.”

It’s important for teachers to come across to their students as excited by what they are teaching, she said. “We are competing with DVDs and video games and everything they do — we have to compete with all those things.”

The accolade, which she was “very surprised” to receive, helps make what she does seem worthwhile, Halstead said.

“It’s great to know that people notice your hard work,” she said. “When I came in yesterday (Thursday),” after the honor was announced, “my kids got so excited — they were thrilled.”

Indeed, the congratulations from her students hadn’t abated when the News-Herald visited Elephant’s Fork Friday.

Halstead, whose various volunteer activities include working with children at the Help and Emergency Response shelter, is in her 10th year of teaching. She earned her bachelor’s degree from James Madison University and was previously honored with three Reading Teacher of the Year awards.

In a news release, Elephant’s Fork principal Andre Skinner cited Halstead’s “leadership, initiative, stamina, consistent conscientiousness and genuine commitment to the education of all her students.”

Colleague Frances Robb stated that Halstead would “definitely be a first-round draft pick” on a “Fantasy Teaching Team.”

Other honorees in the district’s Teacher of the Year awards were Middle School Teacher of the Year Joseph Rotzler, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Forest Glen; High School Teacher of the Year Anne Branch, who teaches math at King’s Fork; and Megan Granger, Rookie Teacher of the Year, an eighth-grade English teacher at King’s Fork Middle.

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