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Kodumthara named Creek Elementary's Teacher of the Year

Suja Kodumthara, a Mustang graduate and second grade teacher at Mustang Creek Elementary, doesn't like to take credit for being named the school's Teacher of the Year. She had parents who set a good example, works with wonderful colleagues and had teachers who made sure she loved school.

Everyday the kids make being a teacher worth it.

"I love this age," she said. "They're still innocent and they still want to please you but there is also this sense of independence."

Kodumthara's parents immigrated from India in the 1970s in search of a better life. She and her sister were born in Denver but the family moved to Oklahoma when Kodumthara was 3.

Although Kodumthara loved to play "school" as a child, there is an expectation in her Indian community that career options included the medical field or perhaps a business degree. Kodumthara considered being a nurse, perhaps a doctor. She was in her junior year of college and none of those choices felt right. During a random conversation in a study group in the UCO library, Kodumthara expressed her frustration. A friend suggested she look into being a teacher.

"I loved teaching Sunday School, I just never thought of it as an option," she said. "Once I started those education classes, I knew. This was it. This was what I was supposed to be doing."

Her parents approved of the change in her major.

"Coming to this country, their whole purpose was to give us a better life," she said. "They worked so hard. That mindset is in us to find a good job, a good career, a good foundation. They were very supportive."

She tries to instill the same work ethic in her class. She asks them to give her their personal best. For Kodumthara, it's not a matter of simply preparing them for third grade; she's preparing them to be lifelong learners.

"I tell them you can do anything you try and that's how I run my classroom," she said. "Some parents have told me I have really high expectations for my classroom. I want the kids to know they can do it. You just have to try. My biggest thing is I tell my kids don't settle for mediocrity. We live in a world with minimum effort and maximum expectations."

She remembers one student whose reputation preceded him. His mother tried to prepare Kodumthara at open house for her little boy who struggled in school.

"I never had a student with that many needs and that many issues," Kodumthara said. "It was a great year with him. We had a relationship of mutual respect and trust. If he did have a moment where he was having a meltdown, I could talk with him. He knew I wasn't there to attack him. He knew I just wanted to hear him out."

One little boy's horror of being at school turned into hand drawn gifts for the teacher he had grown to love. By the end of the year, he worked so hard to overcome that he was one of her best students.

"Even now he comes and gives me hugs and it means everything," she said.
She holds herself to the same high expectations.

"Mom used to say, 'If you're going to do a job, do it right. Do it the best you can.' If I'm going to come in here and teach 20 little friends every day, then I'm going to give it my best."

She's humbled by the honor of being named Teacher of the Year.

"Here I am in the district I grew up in, being honored for a job so many teachers have done an amazing job at. I had Teri Brown who is now at Prairie View. She was my fourth grade teacher and I loved her. Carla Hamm was my chemistry teacher in high school. All these teachers I think of, now I wish I could tell them, 'It's because of you.' I feel like I carry little pieces of them with me as a teacher. When I think of Mrs. Brown, I think of how much she loved the kids and I try to give that to my kids."

Kodumthara will compete with 13 other site Teachers of the Year at Mustang Public Schools for the title of District Teacher of the Year. The winner will be announced in March.

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