Waller named Teacher of the Year for MEC
Christy Waller, Mustang Education Center's Teacher of the Year, had no intention of teaching again. Straight out of college, she and her husband left their families and moved to a major city in another state. Young and inexperienced, she found a job teaching sixth-grade language arts in a rough part of town. She was left on her own to sink or swim with street-wise kids who already knew the game. Three year later, she and her husband moved back to Oklahoma, their 1-month-old son in tow, and she was done. She wanted to stay home with her baby and not set foot behind a teacher's desk again. There would be another career in her future someday, but she told her husband it wouldn't be teaching.
When her oldest son started pre-kindergarten at Mustang Education Center, everything changed.
"My son grew up and he comes to to pre-k here and I just fell in love with it. He had an awesome teacher," Waller said. "This building is incredible. The more I helped in his room and read to his class, I thought 'I could do that.'"
She tested for her certification in early childhood and began substitute teaching. Three years later, she was hired full time.
"I had been in so many classrooms and got to see so many different ways of doing things," she said. "It didn't feel like my first year of teaching pre-kindergarten."
There were things to get used to, moving from sixth grade to pre-k. When the kids are new to school, they have no idea how to make a line, or how to walk with their class quietly through the halls. Waller said the first time the kids cut a shape out of paper is always a challenging day.
"One of the strange, eye opening things for me as a new pre-k teacher was handing them a pair of scissors," she said. "They have no idea what to do with scissors."
But the rest of the days make it worth it.
"The kids are hilarious," she said. "They love you and they're not afraid to tell you. And their parents appreciate you too. For a lot of them, it's their first experience with school. I think they appreciate what we do and the opportunities we give them to be involved. The kids are excited to learn and excited to come to school."
Mustang's pre-kindergarten program has a set academic curriculum, things like learning the letters of the alphabet and days of the week. Waller said one of the most important things pre-kindergarten accomplishes is "learning how to do school." They learn what's expected, how to play well together and what kind of behavior is appropriate.
"This is definitely different than a day-care type setting," Waller said. "I think it's difficult for some parents; it's far away and we don't provide transportation. But from the time my kids came here, I've always said it was worth it. I wouldn't go anywhere else."
Her older son is now at Canyon Ridge Intermediate. Waller has fallen in love with that school too. Here, maybe, she would consider giving sixth grade another try, but for now, she is happy teaching 4-year-olds the basics to carry them into next year.
She was honored and also somewhat surprised to be named Teacher of the Year for MEC after only three years as a full-time pre-k teacher. She said the building is full of wonderful teachers.
"We all just get along," she said. "It's like a family. We share ideas with each other and talk about the struggles with the students. The staff has a lot of fun together and the assistants are included."
Teacher of the Year at MEC gets a special parking spot marked with a Teacher of the Year sign. Everyday when she parks her car, Waller doesn't feel worthy of the designation.
"Every time I see that sign, it inspires me to do the best that I can do," she said. "I don't feel the sign is so much an honor as it is a reminder."