'2018 Teachers of the Year' Honors Go to Lexi Law, Heather Preston

2018 Teachers of the Year Honors Go to Lexi Law, Heather Preston

 

For the third year, WFISD chose two of its finest educators – one for elementary, one for secondary -- to represent the District in the state’s 2018 Teacher of the Year competition.

 

Superintendent Mike Kuhrt named Lexi Law, a 5th grade science teacher at Ben Franklin Elementary, as WFISD’s 2018 Elementary Teacher of the Year. He also named Heather Preston, an honors English teacher at Rider High School, as the District's Secondary Teacher of the Year.

 

Learn more about them here.

 

Lexi Law, 5th grade Ben Franklin Elementary science teacher

Mrs. Law was a latchkey kid in elementary school. By first grade, she learned how to fix herself ramen noodles. By age 16, she had her own apartment and drove herself to high school every day. Her first job was at the Boys and Girls Club, a job that fulfilled her and steered her away from the trouble that was finding one of her siblings. Students loved her so much that they cried if she left early. That convinced her she needed a career in education.

She has packed a lot of accomplishments into her four years of education with WFISD. She is a member of the Texas Regional Science Collaborative and maintains 100 hours annually of science professional development. She participated in WFISD’s Teacher Leadership Cohort and is a popular presenter at conferences like TCEA, Chromebook Academy, Technology in Action Conference, and Region 9 summer workshops.

She has been awarded two IDEA grants from the Wichita Falls Foundation, one in 2015 and one in 2017. She is also a 2016 recipient of the West Foundation Excellence in Teaching Award. In 2017, she received the Sarah and Ernest Butler Excellence in Science Teaching Award from the Texas Medical Association.

Her classroom is a hotbed of creative activity. When planning a lesson, she asks herself, “How is this fun and memorable?” She may come to class with her hair teased out to teach about volume, or dress up as a male construction worker to construct cantilevers. One day she covered herself in fake moss and painted her face to become Peat the Plant and teach how coal forms. She says, “If I expect my students to go above and beyond, then I need to model it for them.”

 

She believes that technology benefits her students by helping them become creators instead of consumers. She marvels how technology has made leaders in the classroom out of her students, particularly her special education students because it helps them learn quickly from their mistakes.

 

She is also passionate about helping her fellow teachers. She spearheaded Ed Camp Wichita Falls after attending a similar one in Dallas. She received such positive feedback that she orchestrated a second one in October 2017. She also created a website where she uploads her activities and lesson plans to share with any teacher who clicks on it.

 

She participates in many WFISD initiatives, such as the Teacher Leadership Cohort 13 and the Digital Classroom Pilot in 2015 where she introduced a classroom set of iPads to her students. She has also completed Leadership Training with Marzano Research and participated in a special Marzano leadership summit in Denver, Colorado.

 

Because River Bend Nature Center is her ally in teaching science to children, she personally helped them raise more than $1,000 by participating in its Over the Edge campaign. For donations, she repelled down Big Blue, our downtown skyscraper.

 

She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership at Midwestern State University and is scheduled to graduate in May. As Ben Franklin’s 5th grade science teacher, she recently scampered through the Franklin hallways in a tyrannosaurus rex blow-up costume as an introduction to her Jurassic Park STAAR review.

 

Heather Preston, Rider High School honors English teacher

 

Mrs. Preston was an at-risk student in high school. She disconnected from high school when she was a sophomore and was later accepted into WFISD’s Harrell Accelerated Learning Center in what should have been her junior year.

 

There, she met two educators who changed her perspective on education. Both men – a computer teacher and a JROTC instructor – customized the curriculum to accommodate her interests. She gives them credit for believing in her before she believed in herself.

 

Both teachers helped her see that education cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. This has been her passion ever since.“I now dedicate my time to creating individualized assignments that empower my students to take ownership of their own learning,” she says. “They are capable of far more than they can imagine.”

 

Mrs. Preston has taught seven years in education, all for WFISD. In 2013, she was an IDEA Grant recipient. In 2014, she was honored as a Humanities Texas Commended Teacher of Humanities. Over the years, she has established herself as a leader by giving many professional development trainings, including Google Suite Training, No Red Ink Training, Student-Led Discussions training, Ed Puzzle training, Flipgrid Training, and many more.

 

In her own classroom, her goal is to be difficult to spot. She wants the level of student engagement to be the star of her classroom. She invites students into the planning process, letting them discuss grading criteria for specific assessments. For most of her class time, students collaborate in groups, building the real-world skill of working with others. She has a bench in her classroom that has this quote from Steven W. Anderson: “Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.” Her goal is to live that saying every day.

 

She creates a student-friendly environment with soft lighting, instrumental music, flexible seating and student-created art. For discussions, students write the questions, provide the commentary and facilitate discussion. She lets students choose how to demonstrate their knowledge in her class, which spurs their creativity. Students have demonstrated the themes of Hamlet through songwriting, painting, baking, screenplay writing, interpretive dance, sculpture and many other creative techniques.

 

In her early years as a teacher, her rules for students focused on compliance. She required students to bring their materials to class and sit in their assigned seats. No more. Now that she has grown as an educator, she empowers her students by asking them to have a vision, be a learner not a finisher, lean into struggle, feed their passion and own their education.

 

Besides teaching, she works consistently to facilitate the exchange of ideas among teachers. This year, she introduced Pineapple Charts. Teachers add lessons to a weekly calendar and urge their peers to informally observe them. It has created a contagious excitement among fellow teachers and alleviated the need to travel elsewhere to get professional development.

 

She keeps all her resources on Google Drive and gives full access to all colleagues. She’s active on Twitter to connect and grow with other educators from around the nation. She has also eagerly mentored three new teachers at her school, helping them set yearly goals and monitoring their growth.

 

Mrs. Preston has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English from Midwestern State University and will earn her doctoral degree from the University of North Texas in one more year. She is Rider High School’s honors English teacher and academic coordinator.