Newman alumnus Gilbert Still Jr. is among eight finalists in the running to become Kansas Teacher of the Year.
The Kansas State Department of Education will announce who will be given the honor during a ceremony in Wichita, Kansas, on Nov. 18.
Still said he heard his calling to be a teacher during his senior year in high school when he participated in a teacher cadet class, visiting schools and volunteering in local classrooms.
“I found out that was my passion and what I was meant to do for the rest of my life,” said Still.
Still lives that passion each and every day in his classroom at Northwest Elementary in Dodge City, Kansas, teaching fourth grade.
“I think it’s the perfect age,” said Still of his students. “They are independent, you can joke with them, and you can have a good time. They’re able to have simple conversations and do project-based learning — things I really enjoy doing.”
Still said what is most important to him is to be able to make a connection and build a good rapport with the kids to make the teacher/student relationship work best for everyone.
“That’s what matters the most. You have to be able to build that bond before you can teach.”
Still received his Bachelor of Science in elementary education in 2009, followed by a Master of Science in education in 2011, and recently a licensure in curriculum and instruction with an ESOL (English as a second language) emphasis — all from Newman University. He said Newman was a great fit for him in preparing for his career.
“The teachers we had were hands-on with lots of experience and many were from right here in Dodge City.”
The pace and curriculum worked well together and having some courses in a classroom setting and others in an online setting fit with his personal goals and lifestyle.
Being the oldest of three children, his preference was to stay close to home and to help as much within his family as possible.
“Growing up, my dad worked three jobs sometimes, and my mom worked two at times,” said Still. "It was hard for them and my brother and sister, so I wanted to stay close to home to help with homework, projects and extracurricular stuff. My parents didn’t ask that of me, I just decided to take it upon myself to help out where I could — to help my brother and sister to become successful.”
Still said his drive and motivation in life came from experiencing some harder times growing up. And he wants his students to know there are things in life that you can control.
“Knowing some of the struggles that my parents went through, that helped mold me and build drive and inner passion. I want to help other kids know that their struggles aren’t going to prevent them from succeeding in life.”
Still is looking forward to finding out the Kansas Teacher of the Year results in November, but said he’s happy to be nominated whether he wins or not.
His 24 students, however, are rooting for their teacher.
“Now that I’m a finalist, they’re excited,” Still said. “But they’re also a little sad that I won’t be there (in the classroom) as much next semester.”
As a finalist, Still will join fellow nominees on a tour of Kansas schools, during which he will speak about his experience as a teacher and his teaching methods.
The nomination came as a surprise to Still, and he appreciates the positive exposure it will bring to his school.
“I was proud, excited, shocked, stunned — but more than anything — I knew it was a chance to showcase my community and help my kids out here in Dodge City.”