Kellie May was named Utah’s Teacher of the Year on Thursday night. The funny thing is: She’s not a teacher anymore.
Well, at least not for this school year.
May is instead teaching other teachers how to teach, trying to convince her colleagues to stay in the profession and trying to get more teachers in front of students. It’s a new assignment that started in July for the educator of 23 years.
“Going into this profession, you think about it as you’re going to be the giver,” she said. “You’re going to give yourself and your knowledge. You don’t even realize how much more you’re going to gain.”
May, 46, has spent the past seven years teaching at West High School, where she lectured on social studies and led the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, or AVID, which helps underrepresented students prepare for college. It was that work that led her to be named the Teacher of the Year for 2019 by the Utah Board of Education.
“She has a knack for working with students and really getting them to see and believe in their own potential,” said Salt Lake City School District Superintendent Lexi Cunningham. “She was instrumental in getting kids to graduate.”
That’s why the district moved May out of the classroom this year, she added, to work on recruitment and retention and to train other educators to do what she does.
With the award, May receives $10,000, a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet President Donald Trump and the chance to compete for the title of national Teacher of the Year.
“I’m completely overwhelmed and excited,” May said.
She hasn’t decided yet how she’ll spend the money, other than to celebrate a little. That included a surprise goodwill splurge during a coffee run Friday morning, said district spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin. May went in with $100 in cash, she said, tipped the barista $20 and told him to use what was left over to buy the drinks for the customers behind her.
It’s in line with how she’s been as a teacher, too, Chatwin said — generous, warm and sincere. And it’s the same attitude she’s taken with training other educators for the district.
“She’s giving our teachers the resources they need,” she added. “That means we’re giving our students the best resources we can.”
In the role, May coordinates mentorship for young educators in the district where about 370 are either new to teaching or have spent less than three years in Salt Lake City schools. Her hope is that with support and collaboration, fewer teachers will leave the profession.
“The first few years of teaching are really challenging,” she said. “But you truly have the future sitting in front of you every day. It’s such a rewarding way to spend your time. I just don’t understand why people wouldn’t want to be a teacher."
May has previously taught at Bryant Middle, Lincoln Elementary (now called Liberty) and Northwest Middle. She is also currently an associate instructor at the University of Utah.
Cunningham said several of May’s students have gone on to be teachers because of her.
“I think that really just sums up who she is,” Cunningham said. “I can’t think of anybody more deserving [of this award] or anyone who would be a better representative for teachers.”