Meet Michigan Teacher of the Year Leah Porter

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August 10, 2021

What is your teaching experience?

For the last 15 years, I have taught kindergarten, and for some of those years, I was also an interventionist for first-grade students. This year, I am transitioning to third grade. A big change!
What is your mission/platform as Michigan Teacher of the Year?

At the foundation of every aspect of teaching is community. Community, above all else, is essential to creating relationships, understanding each human as a person, and how students learn both individually and collectively as a class. Community expands outside of the classroom, as well, across buildings, districts and the people who live in your district. With a lens of equity and accessibility for all students, the development of community and relationships creates an environment for teachers to guide students to become leaders and instruct them in a way that allows them to grow and flourish into their most authentic selves. 
What is the biggest change in your classroom from when you first started teaching?

Over the last 15 years, despite changes in so many aspects of my teaching, the most significant change has been in classroom management. Talk to any teacher in the early 2000s and they would all share about visual classroom management systems. Many were often color coded (mine was!) with the idea of the colors visualizing students’ behavior throughout the school day.  It was punitive and ineffective. Over time, I realized, as many others did, that learning about students and understanding why they are having difficulty allowed for the opportunity to support, encourage and work with the student. The relationships that are built from this time and observation support the students’ individual needs and give them the tools they need to be successful. 
What are the most important things that your students have taught you?

I continue to be inspired and in awe by primary learners’ ability for empathy. If you need a model, just spend a few hours with a group of kindergarten students. The care students show for each other when they are hurt, missing a family member or in need of missing materials, is lovely to witness. Over the years, I have looked to my students as the model to show care and love to other humans.
What is your favorite story/event from teaching?

I have so many wonderful stories that I hold in my heart. My very favorite moment from teaching, though, happened just two years ago.
In 2019, my first kindergarten class graduated from high school. The seniors had been invited back to our school for a reception in celebration of their accomplishments. They brought their caps and gowns, and before the reception, the seniors walked through the hallways for all the current elementary students to see. As they walked past me, I thought about leading those little learners through those same halls all those years ago, preparing them to begin their educational journey. Seeing them as graduates will be a moment I hold in my heart forever. The relationships we create with students are for life. What an honor and privilege.
Who would play you in the Oscar-bait inspirational movie about your class, and what would the movie be called?

Fun fact about me, I am an avid movie fan! My husband and I hosted a movie podcast for years, so this question is right up my alley!
Even though I am transitioning to third grade this year, all my teaching experience thus far has been with my sweet primary students, so my Oscar-bait movie would be focused on them. 
Title: Teacher of Heroes
SynopsisTeachers of Heroes is a family fantasy comedy about young kids with developing superpowers. Their teacher, Mrs. Porter, works with this group of new heroes to unlock their confidence and help them embrace their superhuman potential.
Starring: Reese Witherspoon (my husband says Brie Larson!)
Tagline: Even superheroes get their start in kindergarten.
My husband Ryan is a very talented artist and created a movie poster to go along with it!

Do you have any words of advice for teachers (rookies or veterans)?

Rookie Teachers: There will be so much new for so long. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. Breathe and take the time to get to know your students. I promise you, the rest will fall into place.
Veteran Teachers: After years of being in this profession, it can be difficult to not be weighed down by all the challenges we face each and every day. In those hard moments, take the time to really tune in to your class and teaching. I promise you will find so many magic moments that will propel you to all the positivity and possibility you began with all those years ago.
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