By Brooke Greene
Editor In Chief
Each year, a teacher is acknowledged as Kansas’ Teacher of the Year, and while Covid-19 disrupted the previous selection, the selection was finally made.
Susanne Stevenson of Dodge City is the 2022 Kansas Teacher of the Year and the remaining nominees are considered the 2022 Regional Teachers of the Year.
The award ceremony was held last week in the reception hall in the fine arts building at Hutchinson Community College. The teachers were awarded $2,000 from the KTOY sponsor Security Benefit, as well as an award at the KTOY banquet for being a finalist.
Among this year’s nominees was one of Hutchinson High School’s English teachers, Amber (Aden) Carithers, who is a Hutchinson Community College alumna.
“It starts at the district level,” Carithers said. “Students, Parents, Teachers, Administrators, etc. can nominate a teacher to be selected as a district nominee. When a teacher becomes a candidate, there’s an application process. There’s a committee that reviews these applications, and then one Elementary and one Secondary teacher is chosen from the district to represent USD 308 Hutchinson Public Schools in the Region 1 KS Teacher of the Year virtual celebration. At the virtual celebration, three Elementary and three Secondary semifinalists are selected. Out of the three one Elementary and Secondary finalist is selected. There are four regions in the state, so there are eight state finalists. Out of the eight, one is selected as Kansas Teacher of the Year. The previous year’s KTOY team is at the reception and we invite family, friends, colleagues, administrators, community members, legislators, State Board of Education members , too. We had to wait an extra year to find out because of COVID, however, it was well worth the wait and the experience has been like none other.”
Carithers graduated from Wichita State University in May 2013 and began teaching at Hutchinson High School in Aug. 2013. While this has been her primary teaching position, she has also offered online courses through Friends University and HutchCC.
Carithers and Rachel Santine, one of HutchCC’s Public Speaking professors, worked together to form the Future Teachers Organization (HCC KNEA-SP).
“Ironically, Amber Carithers was the first student to ask for and start the Future Teachers Group at HutchCC with me,” Santine said. “She was determined and served to inspire many others to join that excellent preparatory group at HutchCC. Additionally, I had her future husband, Shawn Carithers, in my Public Speaking class that semester.”
Carithers has inspired many other teachers to excel in their professions and to be the best teachers they can be, as they have also participated in the Kansas National Education Association Student Program.
“I went to Rachel, wanting to create an organization for future teachers at HCC, she heard me out and that’s where it all began,” Carithers said. “Teri Eckhoff assisted in the group, and I’ve kept in touch with both of them. Next year, HHS is adding an Education Pathway as part of the CTEA. I will be teaching the class Teaching as a Career’ next year. So many people I’ve met along my educational path have impacted me, especially the incredible individuals at HCC, Ryan Diehl, Corbin Strobel, Cindy Keast, Santine, Teri Eckhoff, and so many others.”
When nominated for the Kansas Teacher of the Year award, Carither said she was surprised, especially as she continued to advance through the competition. She was up against 24 other Kansas teachers.
“When they read off my name I was so surprised,” Carithers said. “I also found out I was the second teacher in our district to receive this distinction, and we have another teacher in USD 308 (Carly Torres from Wiley Elementary School) who is a finalist for next year.”
What does Carithers do differently from other teachers to advance so far into this award nomination? Some teachers are in the profession merely for the job, and there are others that are there to make a difference in their students’ lives. Carithers has exceeded that expectation of her students and managed to develop close relationships with them. An education can be hard to pursue when one has a troubling home life, a crisis, or a burnout, and this is where Carithers aims to make her impact in USD 308.
“I try to be very intentional in all my practices,” Carithers said. “One thing I know from experience is that building relationships with students is imperative. I try to be personable and understanding in all circumstances. I also believe in the importance of checking in on my students. I do a Mindful Monday and Friday Check-In, just to check in. I worry about all aspects of their well-being – physical, social, mental health. I love my students and I want them all to be successful.”
Through this process, Carithers says she has met a new network of colleagues which has helped her develop a new and vast support system. She has also managed to get out of the classroom quite a bit this year to experience new adventures in what she describes as a “once in a lifetime experience.”
“I do know that just because I have received this honor and award, I continue to improve and hone my skills as an educator,” Carithers said. “It’s important to be aware and knowledgeable of the legislation that’s impacting education, too, and this experience has opened me up to this, too.”