Woman Becomes Teacher of the Year – Says It’s All Because of ‘One Good Thing’

Oklahoma teacher Rebecka Petersen decided to add a little joy to her classroom. Her first year of teaching wasn’t without its struggles, but she remembered why she was there and she wanted to consciously put those positive thoughts at the forefront of her mind. So she created the One Good Thing blog.

It was a simple thing, really. Every evening, she would write on her blog, chronicling “one good thing” that had happened at school that day. She gave her blog the tagline: Every day may not be good, but there is one good thing in every day.

She encouraged her students to do the same in handwritten journals. Just a few minutes a day to reflect on something good that happened — that would be enough, she insisted.

Petersen is not a language arts teacher. She’s not a humanities teacher, either. Petersen teaches math at Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Still, she encourages her students to write and reflect, knowing it will make them happier and more motivated to learn.

How One Woman Became the 2023 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

During her eleven years in Union’s classrooms, Rebecka Petersen has tried to make math exciting and relevant for all of her students, while recognizing that some students find the subject difficult and abstract. From algebra to calculus, her efforts to make math accessible made her the 2023 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year. From there, she made the cut to become one of the top five teachers in the nation— and eventually won the title of 2023 Teacher of the Year given by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

On their website, the CCSSO explains that their National Teacher of the Year Program “identifies exceptional educators across the country, celebrates their work in and outside the classroom and offers them a one-of-a-kind professional development opportunity.”

Since receiving the state award, Petersen has  already travelled all over Oklahoma, talking to teachers about bringing joy back into classrooms. Now, she looks forward to a year of networking and engaging with teachers across the country, participating in policy discussions at the state and national level, and advocating for students.

Oklahoma Education Association President Katherine Bishop says that Petersen is the right person for the job: “She is truly passionate about the power of teachers and what it means to be a leader for your students and the community.”

How One Teacher Proves the Importance of Finding Joy in Each Day

Petersen credits that to the fact that she herself had many supportive teachers during her school years. They inspired her to help her students find the joy in learning. And her One Good Thing blog keeps that momentum going. She hopes her students’ daily journals will allow them to chronicle their own personal successes, no matter if they’re big or small.

“Her ability to tap into students’ joy and form authentic bonds and her dedication to making learning truly accessible embodies what it means to be an outstanding educator,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association.

Petersen’s goals for this year include recognizing and emphasizing the positive experiences students have not only with math but with learning in general, in classrooms across the country. She hopes these stories will attract new teachers to the profession and give energy to current ones. In many places in the country, the teaching profession is indeed in crisis. 

It’s important to Petersen that people to reflect on the good experiences they have in school. Most of us have a favorite teacher or a school experience that changed our lives for the better. If we shared those and reflected more on them, could we, too, spread joy to teachers and students everywhere?

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