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Teacher at Murray's Liberty Elementary strives to make school relevant

Published July 19, 2012 10:29 am

Huntsman Award • Judy Mahoskey won $10,000 for her excellent teaching.
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Judy Mahoskey took a variety of courses in college, but when she enrolled in an education class, she discovered her teaching passion. She said she loved planning lessons as part of the curriculum.

"It was something I could do forever," she said.

In May, Mahoskey, a sixth-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary in Murray, was one of six Utah educators who received the Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education.

"It feels nice that people recognize that I'm working hard and that I'm trying my best," she said. "It also feels kind of embarrassing because I know so many fabulous teachers."

Going into her 30th year of teaching at Liberty means she might be gaining more students whose parents were in Mahoskey's class years ago.

"I'm teaching kids of kids I had," she said. "It's like, I know your moms and dads, and I live in the neighborhood."

She said she wants kids to connect ideas and see the relevance. For example, a history lesson on the Holocaust is tied to today's bullying issues.

"I very rarely use textbooks," she said. "What I do is constructed as teaching for understanding, not just for the output, and I would much rather do five problems than a whole page."

Mahoskey's rule is to treat the students fairly and let them have a voice. She said she doesn't want to be authoritative, but she wants to create structure and let the kids make their own decisions.

"What I think makes her a great teacher is she shows us techniques that we want to learn," said Carly Sandoval, a student of Mahoskey's. "She teaches and she has fun with it, so we're having fun and learning at the same time."

Mahoskey has a great concern when it comes to funding for school, especially because Liberty Elementary is a Title I school, which means it receives federal funding because a high percentage of the students come from low-income families.

"I can tell you when I first started, we got $12 per student per year to buy supplies," she said. "That amount has not changed in 29 years."

She's also concerned with the lack of time that elementary teachers have to develop and plan. She said the teachers at her school get to meet once a week for 45 minutes.

"If I could redo the school system, I would make it longer and give teachers more time to think and plan," Mahoskey said. "We're always, always on the run."

She said she envisions the school as a community center with activities such as school nights for parents, but the resources are lacking.

"Education is the great equalizer; if parents had better education and better opportunities, they could be better for their kids," she said. "I want to scream when I hear legislators say there's no more money for education."

In the meanwhile, Mahoskey said she will stay up at nights on the computer trying to introduce new concepts to her students.

"I want to train them to be thinkers and doers," she said. "All teachers want to go in inspiring kids to be everything they can be."

She also wants to instill a sense of responsibility.

"I tell them, when I'm old and gray, you're the ones running the country," Mahoskey said.

She called herself a "cheapskate" and said she doesn't know what she'll do with the $10,000 that came with the Huntsman honor.

"I'm really lucky in that I'm not desperate for anything, but I can't imagine spending it," she said.

Once she thought she was going to be a lawyer, but she reconsidered because she didn't want a career that didn't fit into her personality and plans.

"I thought I cannot do something boring," she said. "I want to do something fun and challenging."

Fun and challenging can almost sum up her teaching experience, and she said it's gratifying to hear from past students.

"It's really fun when students say they remember something I did a thousand years later," she said.

One of her students, Richard Woods, said he remembered a time when Mahoskey let the class throw a party for another teacher. He also said he appreciates how patient his teacher is.

"Basically, she gives us a second chance and a fifth chance," Woods said.

Fellow teacher Courtney Lee, who teaches kindergarten at Liberty, nominated Mahoskey for the Huntsman Award.

"Judy goes above and beyond for her students and also for her school and the community," Lee said. "You can tell her kids respect her and each other."