After a tough year and a half, N.H.’s Teacher of the Year wants to celebrate public school educators
Sara Casassa, a middle school language arts teacher in South Hampton, says her work bringing technology into the classroom helped her school adapt during the pandemic.
Every year, the New Hampshire Department of Education chooses a Teacher of the Year who serves as an ambassador for state educators. This year, that teacher is Sara Casassa, a language arts teacher at South Hampton’s Barnard School, who was chosen out of more than 70 applicants after a lengthy application process.
She joined NHPR Morning Edition host Rick Ganley to talk about how public education gets a lot of criticism, but as Teacher of the Year, she wants to highlight the good work being done in public schools.
Rick Ganley: Sara, first, congratulations. What does it feel like to be the state's Teacher of the Year?
Sara Casassa: Well, thank you very much. It's very surreal. It hasn't really sunk in. I'm very honored, but I certainly didn't expect this.
Rick Ganley: You teach Language Arts and you've also taught Tech Integration in the classroom. Can you tell me what that means?
Sara Casassa: So as a tech integrator, I was responsible for teaching grades one through eight. It was a class that just met once a week, and the goal was to find ways to integrate the technology into the curriculum. So I would talk to the classroom teachers, see what they were teaching, and then think about ways that we could use technology.
And so for first graders, first of all, they had to learn how to do keyboarding but also doing something on a platform like Kid Pix where they might draw a picture and write. As we got older, it's learning how to use Google Slides, maybe making a podcast or movie trailer using something like iMovie.
I love it. It's a way I can be very innovative. And sometimes, for kids that aren't big readers or writers, it's a way to get them hooked. It's a way to get into the topics.
Rick Ganley: And of course, the pandemic must have accelerated this, this kind of tech in the classroom anyway, I mean, so much has been done via screens, whether it be a school-issued laptop or an iPad or something like that.
Sara Casassa: Yeah, actually, that's really, I think, the reason that I am Teacher of the Year. I think that a lot of the kinds of things I was doing just transitioned really smoothly into the kind of need kids had and teachers had. When we were virtual, my students knew how to use all those platforms. I was able to help the teachers pretty quickly pivot to our virtual model.
Rick Ganley: We've heard so much about learning loss this year in student test scores from this past year have borne that out. What specific strategies are you using now in the classroom to address learning loss during the pandemic?
Sara Casassa: Well, we were fortunate because we were in-person all last year. We were only remote in the spring of 2020. And when we had the kids come back, the kids were in good shape.
But that being said, there are kids who need work with reading, writing. We're seeing a lot of children who, even though we were in school, are definitely experiencing trauma and higher anxiety because of the world they've been living in for the last year and a half. They are coming off of a very traumatic experience, and that's where we're finding kids need attention.
Rick Ganley: What responsibilities come with the title of Teacher of the Year?
Sara Casassa: My main responsibility is to be a spokesperson for the teachers in New Hampshire. I really feel that this has been a hard year and a half for our teachers, for our schools, for our students. I think that a lot of times you hear the negatives and criticisms about public education. And one of my biggest responsibilities, I think, is to make sure that people are hearing the good things that are happening in our schools. That'll be exciting.
And I think my students in the past have enjoyed having the opportunity to sort of share their work. But in terms of my teaching and what I get to do, I hope not much changes in my building and in my classroom.