September 26, 2022
We chat with 2022 Illinois Teacher of the Year Kimberly Radostits of Oregon High School about her career, goals and Anne Hathaway playing her in a teaching biopic.
What is your teaching experience?
My main assignment for the last 15 years has been to teach Spanish 1 and advanced Spanish. I love being the teacher that introduces students to language for the first time in order to help them see the world in a whole new way. In my Spanish classes, I teach about a variety of topics such as food, school, school supplies, family and homes, and I love the rich conversations I get to have with my students about not only the vocabulary words that are associated with these topics, but the culture that surrounds them. In my time as a teacher, not only have my students been offered opportunities to be pen pals with people from other countries, but I also have planned a yearly event where my students go to our local Mexican restaurant in order to order food completely in Spanish in an immersion format. I truly feel like I have the best job ever. It is so incredibly rewarding and FUN, and I can’t get enough of it.
What is your mission/platform as Illinois Teacher of the Year?
Outside of my eight contract hours every day, I lead a program to keep freshmen on track for graduation. We started the program in 2007-2008 after looking at our freshmen grades and recognizing we needed to take measures to reduce the number of Fs. Our program is data driven with an Early Warning System that allows us to identify students that are at risk of not graduating on time. It is relationship based and involves mentoring, goal setting and building partnerships with parents to keep students engaged. My goal is to push our EWS out to as many schools as possible and to provide schools with the support they need in order to invest in the 15% of the student body that needs us the most.
That being said, the other wing of this is getting the right people into the profession so that this work can be done. I am invested in speaking to as many colleges and universities as possible to provide encouragement to join us. It is the best career EVER, and we need people that want to be agents of change!
What is the biggest change in your classroom from when you first started teaching?
I believe that the strongest impact I can have as an educator is to make sure all of my students feel known and valued. Young, naïve me thought that pushing content and developing relationships were exclusive of each other. I have since learned that I can use my content as a vehicle to connect with my students. Now in my classes, you will see that all of the content that I am teaching is personalized to not only meet the needs of my students, but to represent them. I use them as characters in my stories and assignments. I use their interests to drive my lessons. I provide them with opportunities to share out about their families’ cultures so that we can connect them to the intricately woven community that we have. Additionally, my class is much more student centered. I make sure to build is many opportunities for collaboration as possible so that students have the opportunity to express their ideas instead of only hearing mine. Quite frankly, my classes look drastically different than year one, and I am proud of that.
What are the most important things that your students have taught you?
I love this question. One of the things I love most about teaching is that I get the opportunity to be a lifelong learner alongside the students in my classroom. I have learned so much from them over the years and believe that I am the person I am today as a result of the experiences I have had with them over the years. One skill they have given me a lot of practice in is empathy. In my afterschool program, especially, there are students that have obstacles outside of school that interfere with their success. Getting to understand where they are coming from and being willing to demonstrate flexibility is important. Additionally, I have watched my students show ME empathy time and time again. In 2015, I survived an EF4 tornado that destroyed my home. The months that followed were some of the toughest of my life, but my students showed up for me every day, and we got through that event TOGETHER. I will never be able to thank them enough.
What is your favorite story/event from teaching?
Every day in my classroom has been a gift, and I can wholeheartedly say that I have felt every emotion possible in my tenure as a teacher. Of all of them, the overwhelming sense of pride that I have in my students and their success is the one that bubbles to the top. I can think of dozens of stories over the years of students that have overcome obstacles to walk across that stage at graduation, and I love every single one of those memories.
I don’t know that I can say that I have a FAVORITE story, but my recent heartwarming one was this past spring. Long story short, there was a situation that occurred early May with the students in my freshmen program, and a few of the boys were removed from the school setting for the last few weeks of school. The second to the last day of the year, the other students in that program asked me if we could have dinner as a group at a local Mexican restaurant to celebrate our success for the year. I was able to secure a school van and drove the group out to the restaurant right after school. When I arrived, the boys that had been removed from school were waiting for us there in their finest Sunday apparel with chaperones and money to pay for my meal. It was the roughest end to a school year I have ever had, but that moment will forever remain my constant reminder that relationships in education matter, and that though you can’t always like what a student does, you CAN love them unconditionally. Needless to say, my heart was pretty full that evening.
Who would play you in the Oscar-bait inspirational movie about your class, and what would the movie be called?
I think Anne Hathaway would do a great job since my beginnings as a teacher looked very much like Mia Thermopolis in “The Princess Diaries.” I would title it “Radventures in Education,” because to me, that is what every day is in my world, and I am SO grateful for the people I share those experiences with!
What are your words of advice for teachers (rookies or veterans)?
My big one would be to remember that relationships matter. I believe that most people in education understand that it is important to develop relationships with students. But, outside of that, I would encourage my colleagues (current and future) to build relationships with parents, the community and each other. As a teacher, there is no need to ever be alone. If we were to compare ourselves to the versions of us that were teaching in February of 2020, we would recognize that we have grown, we are stronger, and we have proven that we are capable of AMAZING things. And, we have done that TOGETHER. There is no greater, more powerful team than a group of educators that share a common goal.
Keep parents in the loop about what is going on your classes and how students are performing (both good and bad). Coach them on how to support their students in your course.
Be an avid traveler of your own building. Go watch teachers that have the same students as you, teach. Check out what is happening in your subject area and others. We all have different strengths; let’s learn from each other!