CHANDLER, AZ — In a time when so much uncertainty surrounds our schools, ABC15 is celebrating those who are still finding ways to help students learn, both in and out of the classroom.
Sara Wyffels teaches Spanish at Chandler High School and she was just named Arizona's 2021 Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Educational Foundation.
Wyffels has been teaching for 15 years, and 13 of those years have been at Chandler High School. She says this past school year has been challenging.
"Learning a language is just such a human thing, where you need another human there to practice," said Wyffels, who has been teaching remotely since March. "Just trying to bring some life into the screen I think."
However, it has also been an eye-opening experience.
"I think that we're at a point where we shouldn't be trying to go back to normal. We need to be moving forward with new ideas and innovations that we have kind of come up with in the middle of all this," she said. "There is a lot of good to pull from this."
Her students shared rave reviews in a video put together by the Arizona Education Foundation.
One student saying, "she creates an environment in her classroom that just allows students to really absorb the information as much as possible."
Another, calling her "an amazing person who really does care for her students' well being."
When asked about her students' comments, Wyffels said, "they're really the soul of why teachers do what they do because they love knowing the students and they love seeing them learn and supporting them, so hearing them say that stuff just makes your heart melt, for sure."
Wyffels is now a candidate for National Teacher of the Year. She gets $15,000 cash, a trip to International Space Camp and Washington D.C., pending COVID. She also hopes to meet with educators across the state either in person or virtually.
"I would say to them that we need to stick together, teachers need each other," she said. "We really need to be empowered to speak up and to share our ideas because I think teachers are remarkable, and have amazing, creative ideas, and can only help us get through this."
In all, 10 teachers from across Arizona were nominated for the award, with the nine other nominees also receiving special recognition.
The 2020 Ambassadors for Excellence are:
- Estevan Carreon, a Special Education teacher at Independence High School in Glendale Union High School District
- Hillary Stacey, a Chemistry teacher at Empire High School in Vail Unified School District
- Jillian Hernandez, an Elementary Education teacher at Puente de Hózhó in Flagstaff Unified School District
- Sara Mora, a Career and Technical Education teacher at Wrightson Ridge School in Sahuarita Unified School District
Five exceptional semi-finalists were also named:
- Elizabeth Shaw, a Social Studies teacher at Rincon Vista Middle School in Vail Unified School District
- Jeffrey Mann, a World History teacher in Flowing Wells High School in Flowing Wells Unified School District
- Nicole Powell, a Elementary Education teacher at Las Sendas Elementary in Mesa Public Schools
- Sharisse Nunes, an Elementary Education teacher at Falcon Hill Elementary in Mesa Public Schools
- Shaylyn Savage, a Special Education teacher at Sunset Ridge Elementary School in Pendergast Elementary School District