Recently, the Kansas State Department of Education named Newman senior Rae Gabrielle Cruz as the Kansas Teacher of Promise Award recipient. She received the recognition at the Kansas Teacher of the Year State Awards Banquet, which she attended as part of her participation in Teachers of Promise.
Once each year, Kansas colleges and universities that offer teacher preparation programs are invited to select two teacher education students identified as Teachers of Promise. As part of this, Cruz was invited to attend a half-day workshop presented by the current Kansas Teacher of the Year Team.
Cruz, a senior in elementary education at Newman University, said she was at her student teaching school and about to greet her students outside when she received a message from Interim Dean of the School of Education and Social Work Jessica Bird asking if she could give her a quick phone call.
“In my head, I was like ‘Uh, am I in some sort of trouble? Am I not on track to graduate?,’” Cruz recalled.
A few minutes later, Bird called and told Cruz congratulations; she was selected as a candidate for the Teacher of Promise Award.
“I was absolutely ecstatic,” Cruz said. “I knew this award was very honorable, and I was glad I was able to get the recognition. It definitely made my day. In the moment, I was feeling overwhelmed with all the things I had loaded on my plate this semester, and to hear the news was a highlight of my whole week.”
Cruz foresees the award helping her when it comes time to apply for teaching jobs at elementary schools around Wichita.
“Right off the bat, my employer will hopefully see my hard work ethic and passion that I have for teaching,” Cruz said. “I know that I have the potential to be great and the drive to support my students academically and emotionally.”
Grateful for many
After graduation in December, Cruz, a Wichita native, plans on obtaining her license to teach K-6 in Kansas with hopes of finding a teaching job with USD 259 in fall 2023. Additionally, a few years into teaching, she plans on going back to school for her master’s degree.
Throughout her journey to becoming a teacher, Cruz, who’s also on Newman’s cheer and dance team, has many people to thank.
“A big shoutout to Aubrey Rogers (admissions database manager), Huachuan Wen (associate professor of education), Janet Jump (assistant professor of education), Brandy Muncy (cheer and dance coach) and my mom,” she said. “They’ve always been a huge support when it came to answering my questions, encouraging me when I was down, and overall blessing me with positivity and love.”
Wen shared that in every class, Cruz’s passion for learning is evident to both him and her peers.
“Through her teaching presentations and classroom participation (such as making raps and dances about course content), as well as written assignments, the creativity of her ideas and her livelihood as a future educator of young children also attested to her talent and dedication as a teacher-to-be,” Wen said. “I can predict with confidence that kids in her classroom will benefit from her passion and skills in integrating across the subjects. Learning will be fun in her room.”
He added, “The Division of Elementary Education selected her as the recipient of the Teacher of Promise Award for good reasons. I believe she will represent Newman graduates in powerful ways at her future job, being an effective and talented educator for her students.”
Path to teaching
Although Cruz now knows she’s meant to be a teacher, that wasn’t always the case.
“Like any typical freshman in college, I was one who wasn’t entirely sure what to do with my life,” Cruz said. “I thought, let me try out some general courses and see what interests me.”
She also took time to reflect on her previous experiences. It was then that she remembered the joy she felt when she taught swim lessons at the city pool or the time she coached her sister’s middle school cheerleading team.
Cruz shared, “What made my heart so full was when I saw a kid who didn’t have the ability when they started practice to then see how much they grew in their skills by the end. In my head I was like, ‘Wow, I taught them that, and now look at how capable they are to build from that.’ It was then that I realized I found joy in teaching.”
And wherever her teaching journey may take her, Cruz will carry her love of Newman with her.
“Rae Gabrielle’s dedication to and love of Newman University is easily visible in many ways about her, as far as I have seen,” Wen added. “She loses no chance to spread Newman’s spirit and brand.”
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