A Mesa Public Schools teacher is the only East Valley finalist for the prestigious Arizona Teacher of the Year Award.
Shepherd Junior High School music and drama teacher Taryn Tidwell is among the five finalists for the recognition by the Arizona Educational Foundation that spotlights teachers from across the state for their dedication to their students.
The Arizona winner will then be in the running for the National Teacher of the Year Award, hosted and run by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
“I’m extremely grateful and honored to be able to advocate for education and students in this position,” said Tidwell.
The Arizona Teacher of the Year will not only receive $15,000 in cash but also reap the benefits of having a professional classroom makeover, professional speech and storytelling training and a one-year membership to Treasures 4 Teachers, among other things.
The top ten educators, whether they are finalists or semifinalists, will also engage in a year of services with the AEF.
This year of service, according to the Foundation’s website, may include public appearances at special events, serving on policy committees, delivering speeches or conducting professional development.
Tidwell told the East Valley Tribune she taught for six years and comes from a family of educators on her mother’s side.
The Mesa native added she was in middle school when she realized she wanted to pursue education.
“I had an extremely influential 7th- grade music teacher who pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Taryn, you should go into teaching and you should teach choir,’” she said. “And that set me on the path.”
“Now, I realize I was a natural leader and teacher,” she continued.
And she’s never looked back since.
Tidwell started teaching in Mesa Public Schools in 2014 at Red Mountain High School before later moving to Shepherd.
Tidwell said she believes music and the arts are invaluable subjects to teach in schools, especially when students are at peak developmental ages.
“I love we are able to make meaningful musical experiences in choir,” she said. “Music and art helps them discover hidden talents and teaches teamwork and social skills.”
“Some of them might have the desire to be future musicians, while some might be here because they have to be,” she added. “But then to see them have more open minds and see their confidence grow is a tremendous feeling.”
To be considered for the award, teachers may either self-nominate or be nominated – Tidwell was nominated by a fellow colleague at the beginning of the year.
The candidates must then submit a written application that is reviewed by a panel of judges consisting of K-12 educators, higher education and members of the business community.
“There were six major essay questions that dealt with either education issues or philosophy of education issues,” said Tidwell. “It took the whole summer to fine-tune – a solid two months to feel good about submitting the application.”
From the written applications, 10 finalists are selected and are asked to prepare a 15-minute video teaching in the classroom and then participate in a 30-minute in-person interview.
The final selection process includes a review of the video, an interview and an impromptu speech by each of the finalists.
Tidwell said that if she were to come out on top, she would use her platform to continue advocating for the arts, as well as the importance of retaining quality teachers.
“I would love to be the voice for teacher retention and keeping quality teachers in classrooms,” she said. “My big push is for more mentoring programs and just having a support system.”
The Arizona Teacher of the Year will be announced this fall at the annual Teacher of the Year Luncheon on Oct. 24 at the Arizona Biltmore.