Pioneer teacher honored with citywide award

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, March 29, 2018

Every hand shot up in the air on a recent morning when Katelyn Leitner asked her students science questions to prepare them for upcoming tests. Once the review concluded, she shuffled the fifth-graders outside to conduct an experiment.

Leitner was recently awarded 2018 City-Wide Teacher of Year for her work done in the classroom at Pioneer Elementary School. The fourth-year teacher regularly plans lessons that engage her students and involve her singing rap lyrics or standing on desks.

“I’m the hardest advocate for myself. I didn’t want a big announcement, but my team boosted me and told me to be proud,” Leitner said. “I couldn’t do it without my special education teacher. I think a lot of people are deserving, but I’m thankful that someone noticed what I do.”

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The biggest strength that Leitner brings to the classroom is her compassion and her willingness to be involved with her students inside and outside of the classroom.

Leitner always makes an attempt to attend events, and she manages to hold an after-school science club at the Whaleyville Community Center.

“That is why I chose Whaleyville, because some of my own students live right there. I try and be involved in their lives. I think that might be the thing I’m proudest of, and parents trust me. I get texts about them from the parents over the weekend,” Leitner said.

While Leitner loves what she does, she wasn’t motivated because of an inspiring teacher. Leitner decided to become a teacher because of what her education lacked growing up.

“I didn’t have the greatest education, and no one tried to get to know me. I had a hard home life, and I get it,” Leitner said. “I get where the students are coming from. I leave personal worries at the door and tend to their needs. They experience the same things I did, and when someone understands and relates, it makes it easier.”

Most of Leitner’s students are upset to think about going to middle school, because that means losing her as a teacher and a mentor.

“I love her, because she does a lot of fun things and she helps us when we need it,” said Summer Massey, one of Leitner’s students. “I will be sad to leave her at the end of the year.”

While Leitner didn’t become a teacher because of an inspiring educator in her life, she is inspiring the children in her classroom to become teachers when they grow up. Cara Russell, one of her students, wants to become a teacher because of how fun her own teacher is.

One student, in particular, has been impacted by Leitner and her ability to connect with all of her students. Griffin, who has autism, was having a tough time with school, and Leitner noticed him crying in the hallways and decided to build a relationship with him.

This year, Griffin is one of her students, and Leitner makes a point to remind him that he is smart and successful.

“Every single day, I tell him that he is smart. He had a worksheet and got it all right by himself. It was like I gave him a million dollars,” Leitner said. “For the first time in his life, I heard him have confidence. I saw him realize he was smart. A little confidence helped a lot. He used to not speak. Now he gets in front of the class and wants to participate. I even send videos to his mom.”

Most teachers measure their success by their students’ scores on the SOL tests, but Leitner measures her success by the impact she has on her students.

“Everyone clings to the SOLs, but that was never a goal for me. They are here no matter what. What I want is having them invite me to their high school graduation. Above everything, I hope I touch all of them so we have a relationship past fifth grade,” Leitner said.