Union High School’s Rebecka Peterson, the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year 2022, has been named as one of five finalists for the National Teacher of the Year 2023, marking the first time in four years that a teacher from Oklahoma has made it to the short list.
“When I got the call, I really think that my heart stopped for a second,” Peterson said. “It was just so surreal.”
Oklahoma state officials expressed their pride in Peterson and praised her exceptional work in the classroom. “Rebecka Peterson exemplifies the heart and soul of a teacher. Her passion for educating and inspiring students is contagious and so deserving of this recognition,” said Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. “Her impact goes beyond the classroom, and we are grateful for her service to Oklahoma students.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister echoed the governor’s sentiments, saying, “Rebecka Peterson’s work to instill a love of learning in every student is a testament to the transformative power of education. Her dedication to her craft is making a real difference in the lives of our students, and we are proud to have her represent Oklahoma on the national stage.”
Peterson, who teaches 10th-12th grade math, has an 87% pass rate from her Advanced Placement calculus class, far outstripping the state average of 47% in the subject. Like all winners of Oklahoma’s highest teaching honor, she is taking a year-long hiatus from the classroom to serve as an ambassador for the teaching profession. If Peterson were to win the National Teacher of the Year award, she would spend another year as an ambassador for teachers throughout the U.S.
Peterson believes that establishing trust with students is essential to being able to push them mathematically. “Once they know my story and I know their stories, we build this trust, and they know, ‘Mrs. P’s got me. She’s in my corner. She would not push me if she didn’t think I could handle it,'” she said.
During her tenure as Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, Peterson traveled to all 77 counties and listened to teachers’ stories in every corner of the state as part of a series called “Teachers of Oklahoma.”
The National Teacher of the Year award is organized annually by the Council of Chief State School Officers to recognize teachers who have made significant contributions to the profession and the students they serve. The five finalists were chosen from a pool of 55 educators representing every U.S. state, extra-state territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity.
“Money does come up, but unequivocally teachers say, ‘We need to be appreciated and respected,'” Peterson said. “It simultaneously mends and breaks my heart because that seems like the bare minimum we could do.”