Reaching for Insπration

Math teacher Sarah Reeves awarded 2023 building Teacher of the Year


William Edwards

Reeves leads a Community Circle in her Algebra 2 class. Photo by Will Edwards.

Emma Li, Co Editor-in-Chief

In January, math teacher Sarah Reeves was voted by fellow teachers as the 2023 building Teacher of the Year for Central High. A decade into teaching, with all of those 12 years at Central, Reeves has established herself as a leader for both students and fellow teachers. 

“A lot of people in the math department really look up to Ms. Reeves,” fellow math teacher Janell Byrd said. “We think of her as a leader in our department. I know that she wouldn’t necessarily consider herself that way, and that’s one of the reasons why I think she deserves this honor so much. She’s very humble, and she does whatever she can to support others.”

Byrd and Reeves went to Mizzou together, and began teaching at Central at the same time right out of school. 

“I feel like we’ve grown up together as teachers,” Byrd said. “I would say the biggest thing she’s taught me is just how to really dig into a student and see all facets of them. Sometimes I think it’s really easy to just get caught up in the day to day things and get frustrated by a certain situation or something like that. But I think she really tries to see the whole individual and think about what they might be going through, what they might be struggling with, or just different things like that.”

Teacher of the Year is an award organized by the district level recipient of the award in the preceding year, and overseen by each building principal. All staff members nominate as many faculty as they would like, given that they are certified staff members. After Principal Tim McCarthy collects the nominations, he sends the names out again to certified staff to vote for the building Teacher of the Year. Once the votes are tallied, the building Teacher of the Year is announced. 

“There’s sort of a running joke amongst the Teachers of the Year that you’ve now earned the right to write several essays,” McCarthy said. 

Each building Teacher of the Year across the Parkway schools submit a lengthyn application for the title of level Teacher of the Year: one for elementary, middle and high school. During that process, applicants are interviewed for Parkway District’s Teacher of the Year. After that title is granted, teachers move on to titles such as Missouri Teacher of the Year, and eventually a National Teacher of the Year. 

Although the implications of Teacher of the Year are great, the title is more than writing essays. 

 “At Central High, it means that the person who is selected is someone identified by their colleagues as one of the very best in the building,” McCarthy said. “I think in so many ways, Ms. Reeves represents the best of who we are as a professional staff. And so many of the qualities that we aspire to in her content mastery in the classroom, and how she works with kids in the classroom, as well as how she works with students out of the classroom.”

 Reeves teaches Geometry, Algebra 2, and Honors Algebra 2 with Trigonometry this semester, though teaching is more about the connections than the content. 

“I actually don’t have a massive passion for math; I have a passion for students and working with students,” Reeves said. “Math seemed to be the subject I should go into because I actually had some really great experiences with my high school math teachers, and I almost felt a sense of duty to pass that on to the next generation. They made me really see math in a tangible and even fun way, and integrated humor into lessons. That paired with the fact I knew I wanted to work with students or work with teenagers at some capacity kind of guided me to being a high school math teacher.”

Working with students as the priority for teaching led to the creation of Community Circle, a weekly routine where Reeves gives students time to talk and understand each other outside of the frame of a classroom. Reeves will ask a question that each person will answer with room for open discussions. 

“This past week, I did a Community Circle, and I was asking what students are into: what TV shows they’re watching, what music they’re listening to, what books they’re reading, what podcasts they’re listening to,” Reeves said. “There were a handful of students who normally aren’t integrated into the same peer groups who made a connection through “Avatar” and through anime, and started talking about that, and why they’re into it, and what parts of that they’re into. The purpose behind Community Circle is that when things happen, we have this structure that we can go to as a class, and we can talk about it. So if there is some academic integrity issues within the class or if there’s something happening at a community level that I think it would be beneficial for student relationships to talk about, it gives us a structure to do so that doesn’t feel quite as awkward as if I were to just stand up in the front of the room and bring up kind of a hard topic to talk about.”

Reeves was surprised to be voted Teacher of the Year. 

“I’m very humbled, because I think our staff at Parkway Central is so strong,” Reeves said. “Our staff as a whole, I feel like we really support students and we support each other. So, to be voted as Teacher of the Year by the staff that I respect so much, I mean, it just means the world to me. I just think that Central High is a really special place. I think we have a really cool chemistry of great teachers, great students, great administration. And I think that this honor has been a chance for me to reflect upon that and being 12 years into teaching, it’s been a really nice reflective process for me and has kind of ignited my passion for teaching, especially after it did get so difficult during COVID.”

Part of that reflective process has been about the challenges inherent to teaching. No stranger to perfectionism, Reeves has been working through the daily trials and tribulations of teaching. 

“It’s hard to teach all students,” Reeves said. “I feel like given any single day, there’s something that I feel like I dropped the ball about, whether it’s following up with a student, updating a grade, grading a paper, or sending an email home to families, there is always something that I’m missing. It’s really hard to feel like you’re doing your best all the time, because there’s just too much to do.”

However, one way to combat perfectionism is through creating a strong foundation in just one aspect. 

“I was so worried about being perfect when I was a new teacher, and I still struggle with it,” Reeves said. “I think really, all they need to focus on is creating relationships with students, creating connections with students, because if you have connection to your students, then the rest of it I have found falls into place for the most part. But in the end, it doesn’t matter what you’re teaching, or how you’re teaching it if your students don’t trust and respect you.”

Sophomore Grace Song has had Honors Algebra 2 with Reeves both semesters this school year. 

“I’m honestly so happy that Teacher of the Yyear is going to Ms. Reeves; she absolutely deserves it,” Song said. “Something I like about her class is that she always starts the day with a little story or a fun thing to get us awake. And even though math is usually such a boring subject, at least in my experience, Ms. Reeves always manages to make class more interesting.”

Reeves has undoubtedly followed through in her commitment to making math fun as it was for her own high school math teachers. 

“Something that I’ll remember any time I see a graph is the sound effects she makes to go with different graph types,” Song said. 

With a student-first outlook on teaching, Reeves has no doubt about the magnitude of the impact a teacher can have. 

“I know that for every student, there’s probably a different teacher of the year for that one particular student, because they’ve made a connection with that teacher, or that teacher has changed their lives in some way,” Reeves said. “And so for the faculty to think of me as their representative is just incredible, and I’m so honored.”