It’s not every day that the superintendent of schools can walk into a classroom and make teachers cry, but that’s just what happened earlier this week. Fortunately, they were tears of joy springing forth from Tandi Mai and Cody Lee as they were informed by Dr. Tom Vernon that they had been named teachers of the year for USD 428. Mai, a sixth-grade teacher at Riley School, and Lee, a business teacher at Great Bend High School, are now eligible to compete for Kansas Teacher of the Year honors as elementary and secondary representatives for the local school district.
“I am certain that no one will be surprised upon learning that these two ladies will be representing the district in the Kansas Teacher of the Year competition,” Vernon said. “Both of these fine teachers exhibit similar qualities. Each is a bundle of positive energy. Each is liked and respected by their students, and each is held in high regard by their colleagues.” “Tandi is one of the most enthusiastic teachers I have ever known,” said Laura Blevins, Riley School prin cipal. “She has a passion for teaching and learning and her enthusiasm spills over into everything she does and is felt by anyone who is fortunate to know her or work with her. Tandi makes a difference with her students and the students at Riley every day.”
Tim Friess, Great Bend High School principal, was equally enthusiastic in his praise of Lee. “Cody is not only a great teacher and educator, she is an outstanding person,” Friess said. “Cody always puts the interests of others first and continually looks for ways to help our students and staff succeed. Picking Cody Lee as secondary teacher of the year for USD 428 was a no-brainer.” Mai has 10 years teaching experience, seven in her hometown of Hoisington, and three at Riley School. “On the first day of class, I have a deep conversation with my sixth-grade students. I need for them to understand that I am sensitive to the roller coaster of emotions that they will encounter,” Mai wrote in her application. “I have only one rule in my classroom: Everyone who passes through my classroom door must smile.
“By putting this rule in place on the first day of school, my students can leave all of their problems outside of the classroom and enter into a positive environment, used not only for learning, but also for growing in character,” she said. “I believe that my role as a teacher in the classroom is to provide a safe and comfortable environment in which students can share my excitement for learning,” Mai continued. “I direct the lessons, but I also allow the students to incorporate input. (Presenting an idea and hearing what others think) can be just as valuable as independent thinking. “The greatest accomplishment that I feel as an educator comes when I look into a student’s eyes and see their desire to learn more,” she said. “It is at this particular point when I know that I have made a difference.”
Cody Lee has taught for eight years, the past five at GBHS. In her application, Lee wrote, “Being an accomplished teacher involves showing students what they are capable of and then seeing the smiles on their faces after they have succeeded. Sometimes that involves pushing students to work hard even when they may not want to put forth the effort. “One thing that I consider a genuine accomplishment and reward in education is when I can influence a student to study business or education as a career,” Lee said. “It pleases me to know that I can promote and encourage students to pursue post secondary education. It is very gratifying when I can assist students in making lifelong decisions. It makes me feel proud of myself and helps me to know that I have made a direct influence in a student’s life.
“I know for a fact that I have the best career there is,” she continued. “I am thankful that life has given me the path to personal success and I will continue to make students feel successful as well.” Teachers were nominated by their principals and/or peers to honor the teaching profession and encourage excellence in education. They were selected by a committee comprised of Tricia Reiser, Laura Blevins, Linda Gotsche, Susan Baxter, Toni Rice and Susan Young. The winners will receive $500 from the district for use in their classrooms and will be eligible to compete for Kansas Teacher of the Year honors. Mai and Lee will be recognized for their accomplishments at the April 11 school board meeting.