This is Teacher Appreciation Week, and one local teacher has earned high honors and appreciation as one of the best in her field.
Barbara Kurtz, Spanish teacher at Meadville Area Senior High (MASH), was named Pennsylvania's representative and a regional finalist for the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL) 2021 Teacher of the Year competition.
Kurtz was recognized April 26 at the annual awards ceremony. While she did not win the final award, she still is one of the best in the region and was the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association (PSMLA) Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.
As this difficult school year nears its end, the Tribune asked Kurtz about her years of teaching and its rewards.
Q: How was your name submitted for the award?
A: I was nominated by a colleague and was named the 2020 PSMLA Teacher of the Year last May. As a consequence, this year I represented Pennsylvania and was recognized as a finalist for the 2021 NECTFL Teacher of the Year. For both organizations I had to develop and submit a portfolio and participate in an interview.
Q: How long have you been teaching, and how long at MASH? Have you always taught Spanish?
A: I have been teaching for 29 years and during that time have taught Spanish to students in grades one-12. I have been at MASH for most of those years.
Q: What drew you to teaching Spanish?
A: Since kindergarten I’ve wanted to be a teacher. In high school and college, I watched Mr. Glenn Hickernell, Miss Carole Ewing and Señorita Cynthia Forrester teach with joy and passion and consistently demonstrate a love for their students. Since I began teaching, I have patterned my practices after these three teacher heroes; I strive daily to be just like them.
Why Spanish? From my first college Spanish class, I was enthralled; I loved learning the language, people, history and culture. Each class was fascinating and my horizons expanded daily. I couldn’t wait to fan the same flame in my students.
Q: What was your reaction to being named a finalist and Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year?
A: I immediately experienced a duality of emotions; I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. It is an honor to be recognized, yet I see where I need to improve. This drives me to work a little harder, dig a little deeper, and strive to be the best role model, mentor and ambassador that I can. This is an opportunity to become a better teacher, and I am not one to duck a challenge!
Q: What do you find most rewarding and enjoy most about teaching?
A: I love the “lightbulb” moments — when students grasp a concept and take a giant leap forward. And, seeing students grow from the beginning of the year to the end, or from year to year, is extremely gratifying. Teaching can sometimes be like solving a mystery. Every student can learn; it’s my responsibility to find the key to unlock success for all of them.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of teaching?
A: I don’t want to be the same educator today that I was yesterday, and tomorrow I want to be a better teacher than I am today. My greatest challenge is to identify where I need to improve, and then find the best resources for sharpening my knowledge or skills. I look for and embrace opportunities to grow. I find people who stretch me. This is my heart: excellence, passion and integrity.