EWU alumna, Idaho Teacher of the Year, will travel to Washington D.C. for national recognition.
By Courtney Dunham
When most 7-year-olds are just getting used to going to school, Katie Pemberton already knew she wanted to be a teacher. Her early passion and years of dedication since have paid off for both her and her students, as Pemberton has been honored as Idaho Teacher of the Year.
This prestigious award follows an already impressive year for the Coeur d’Alene teacher and Eastern Washington University alumna. Pemberton also received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for 2011 and was awarded the Coeur d’Alene School District Teacher of the Year for 2012. As one of only 97 recipients of the Presidential Award, she received a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C. It is the nation’s highest recognition of K-12 math and science teachers for outstanding teaching in the United States.
Pemberton graduated magna cum laude from EWU in 2005, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in education. She hit the ground running and was hired immediately at Canfield Middle School where she is in her eighth year of teaching math. From day one, Pemberton said she wanted to engage her students as much as possible with technology, so she started writing grants in her extra time.
Now recognized as a leader in grant writing and technology use, she has received thousands of dollars in technology grants to create her 21st-century mathematics classroom. She provides her students with innovative and technology-rich mathematics lessons. With their own laptops and now iPads – all funded by grants that she has sought; Pemberton’s students are actively engaged in their learning and are required to think critically as they build a strong conceptual understanding of math.
“This age is such a critical time in her lives when we have a chance to make a real and lasting impact,” Pemberton said. “It’s so important to engage with them immediately on a positive level.”
That’s why she decided in her early days of teaching to greet her students with a handshake at the door every day.
“To say hi and how are you is all it takes sometimes to make a connection with them immediately,” she said. “I can see in their eyes that they know they matter and want to learn.”
Taking extra time with her students is something that Pemberton has committed to more and more over the years. She estimates that she works an average of 50 to 60 hours a week between classroom time, prep, writing grants, and most importantly to her, time before and after school to tutor students who need extra time.
“Certain kids need more one-on-one time and private tutoring for families can be expensive,” she said. “Not all kids want to ask for help – it’s hard. So it’s important to build that trust and connection with them.”
Pemberton is especially committed to high-risk students, sixth through eighth grade, who would otherwise slip through the cracks if not given the extra hour or two a day of tutoring.
“I can see the confidence build in them – in their faces and even in their handshakes that usually start of limp and evolve into firm confident exchanges,” she said.
Pemberton credits her education and training at EWU for preparing her so well for real life teaching and what it was going to take to make that connection.
“Eastern does a tremendous job of offering real classroom experience. I knew exactly what I was getting into – all of the extra work it would take, and it only reconfirmed my commitment that is what I was always meant to do,” she said.
She loved her education so much that she hard a hard time deciding what she wanted to specialize in because she thrived in teaching math, reading and music. She ultimately decided to major in reading with a minor in math. It only took five days after graduation to land her job at Canfield.
Becoming a teacher has fulfilled the dream she had as a little girl when she used to play school with her cousins, who still tease her about always wanting to be the teacher.
“I just love it so much and can’t imagine ever doing anything else,” she said. “No one gets into teaching to become rich or to get summers off. They do it because they really care and want to make a creative difference.”
Pemberton doesn’t know how it feels to get summers off because she also teaches at Lewis-Clark State College each summer. She calls her two jobs the best of both worlds teaching kids and non-traditional adult students.
The most rewarding moments come when she hears how her past students are doing. Just recently she received an email from a parent of a once high-risk student who struggled in eighth-grade math. After putting in a lot of extra one-on-one time with him, her former student is now majoring in civil engineering.
Whether it’s former students, parents or colleagues, the accolades keep coming for Pemberton. As Idaho Teacher of the Year, she is a nominee for National Teacher of the Year and will go to Washington, D.C. where she will meet President Barrack Obama.
“I am so incredibly honored. This is the most amazing profession,” Pemberton said during an assembly in December where she was surprised with the award amongst her colleagues, students and family at Canfield.