Rebecka Peterson, a high school math teacher from Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been named the 2023 National Teacher of the Year. On Monday, April 24, Peterson alongside other 2023 State Teachers of the Year were honored at a ceremony in the White House. President Joe Biden applauded the nation’s best teachers, saying they go above and beyond by providing food and supplies out of their own pockets and often find themselves “explaining the unexplainable, from banned books to duck-and-cover drills.”
The 2023 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year’s teaching philosophy is centered around listening to her students’ stories. “If I am a good storyteller, it’s because I’ve learned to be a good story listener and that has been the foundation of my teaching philosophy — just carving out time and space to listen to my students’ stories,” Peterson told ABC News. “Once I’ve taken the time to listen, I’m just empowered to share their stories and empowered to elevate their voices,” she said.
Peterson has also written over 1,000 posts for One Good Thing, a blog for teachers to track the good things happening in their classrooms. She is committed to using her platform to highlight the positive aspects of education and uplift her students.
“Now more than ever, we as educators have to create these spaces where we’re able to hold their stories and to sit with them and lean into what they’re telling us,” Peterson said. “They’re counting on us. They’re counting on us to create these safe and open places,” she added.
Rebecka Peterson is an advocate for higher salaries for teachers to address the nationwide teacher shortage and the disparities in STEM education. “I’ve been asking teachers all over Oklahoma: How do we recruit and retain highly qualified educators, particularly in STEM? And pay certainly comes up every time, especially when we’re talking about recruiting,” she said.
The math instructor’s own experiences in STEM education have motivated her to inspire her students, especially girls, to pursue careers in math and science. “I grew up in a time where history told that us girls don’t have a place in STEM, but because of Mrs. West, I get to be part of the narrative that says history was wrong,” Peterson said, referring to her middle school math teacher who inspired her to become a math teacher.
As the 2023 National Teacher of the Year, Rebecka Peterson will represent educators and serve as an ambassador for students and teachers across the nation for the next 12 months. Peterson’s students are all in. “Even if they don’t believe it yet,” she said, “they know Mrs. P believes it, and so then they come along for the ride.”
Rebecka Peterson’s dedication to her students, her advocacy for higher salaries for teachers, and her commitment to creating safe and open spaces for her students to share their stories are just some of the reasons why she has been named the 2023 National Teacher of the Year. She is an inspiration to her colleagues, students, and the nation, and her impact will continue to be felt for years to come.
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