Anne Keith of Bozeman is named 2010 Montana Teacher of the Year
Havre and Bozeman teachers chosen as finalists
Oct. 5, 2009 - Everyone knows there is a special place in heaven reserved for middle school teachers.
Those who teach middle school math get special honors.
But a teacher who can teach middle school students to enjoy math, a teacher who sets high standards and gives each student the confidence to achieve them, a teacher who helps thousands of other math teachers do the same– that teacher deserves the highest honor of all.
Anne Keith in class
In September, Anne Keith of Bozeman received that highest honor when she was named Montana Teacher of the Year for 2010.
The Montana Teacher of the Year program annually recognizes a teacher who exemplifies the best in the teaching profession. The program is sponsored and administered by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation.
An interview committee composed of 2009 Montana Teacher of the Year Sally Broughton; other educators; a parent; and a high school student chose Keith from among three finalists.
Keith currently teaches eighth grade math, algebra, and communication arts at Chief Joseph Middle School in Bozeman.
'Too smart' to teach? Keith had wanted to teach her entire life, but as valedictorian of Helena High School, she was often told she was “too smart” to be a teacher.
So she pursued an economics degree instead and went to work for GE Capital. “But as I sat at a computer figuring out how much money this conglomerate was making,” she says, “I remembered my dream. It continued to call me.”
Keith answered the call. She began attending night school – while working full time -- to get her teaching certificate. Her dream finally came true in 1992 when she began teaching 7th grade communication arts and social studies.
The career switch left her with a much smaller paycheck -- less than half of what she made at GE Capital. “But I always said I’m not doing it for the money,” she says.
Keith took a brief detour from teaching in 2000 when she was hired as the principal at Longfellow Elementary in Bozeman, but she longed to be back in a classroom.
In 2001, Keith landed a job teaching math at Chief Joseph Middle School. Since then, she has become a leading force for transforming math teaching in Bozeman and elsewhere. She has collected a pile of awards and honors along the way, including National Board Certification and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math Teaching.
Raising the bar. Keith has worked to “raise the bar of math expectations” for Bozeman students, including a new “Algebra for All” requirement for 8th graders. “It’s not enough to say all students must take algebra,” she says. “We must ensure they learn algebra.”
To that end, Keith communicates to students and their parents exactly what she wants students to know – “learning goals” -- at the beginning of each new unit.
What's the big idea? “I tell them, ‘these are the six big ideas you need to get out of this,’” Keith says. “I tie each test and quiz question to a learning goal. Throughout the unit, I give each student feedback on how well he or she understands the particular math concept. The focus of my classroom has switched from ‘What’s my grade?’ to ‘What do I know and what do I need to work on?’”
It sounds simple, but it has transformed Keith’s teaching. And she has taught thousands of other teachers in Montana and elsewhere to use the technique, called formative assessment. Educators today view formative assessment as the “wave of the future,” Keith says. “We started doing it eight years ago.”
“She is a great math teacher,” crows Molly March, one of Keith’s students. “We are learning quadratic equations and I understand them! She is fun, funny, and explains everything really good!”
The power of perception. “Students enter math class with a preconceived notion – often reinforced by their parents – that they are ‘good at math’ or that they have ‘never been and never will be’ good at it,” Keith says.
Keith researches motivation theories and brain studies to help her understand the way students learn. “I share this research with my students so they are aware of the powerful influence their self-perceptions have on their learning,” she says.
“I constantly strive to create a positive can-do attitude in each of my students. My students leave the school year realizing they CAN and DO understand math and that it can be an enjoyable activity.”
“As a parent of a female middle school 8th grader, words cannot express my appreciation for the excellent teaching and professionalism that Anne brought to her classroom,” says Nancy Ockford, whose daughter has taken Keith’s communication arts and math classes.
“She knew each student’s needs and personality so everyone received special attention.”
Keith greets each of her students by name at her classroom door each day. “I try to connect with each of the more than 100 students I teach every day.” she says.
That connection can be especially important for students with family and personal problems that interfere with learning. In fact, those problems -- along with the No Child Left Behind law -- have had the biggest impact on her teaching.
“Students face many difficulties in their lives," she says.
"Homelessness, alcoholic parents, attention issues, medical problems, and a host of other issues can blow holes in a students’ ability to focus in class, complete homework, or control emotions.
"We all need to realize that when a student locks himself in his room each night to avoid his alcoholic, abusive dad, he might not care much about learning the Pythagorean Theorem. Social services for our students need to be coordinated so that we can alleviate some of these pressures and give such students a CHANCE TO LEARN.”
As Montana Teacher of the Year, Anne Keith will serve as a spokesperson and advocate for the teaching profession and represent Montana in the 2010 National Teacher of the Year event.
“I know there are hundreds of other teachers in our state just as worthy,” she says. “I would like to tell their stories.”
Keith also plans to visit college math, science, and engineering classrooms “to spread the message that teaching is a noble profession – every bit as challenging as working in the business world.”
Outside the classroom. Keith is active in her church, officiates at swim meets across the state, and volunteers at other sports events. She and her husband have two daughters.
Finalists. Finalists in the 2010 Montana Teacher of the Year event are Carol Pleninger, a science teacher at Havre High School, and Jim Thompson, an English and social studies teacher at Bozeman High School.
Keith, Pleninger, and Thompson all will be honored at a gala celebration October 15th, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the MSU-Billings Student Union Building. The Montana Professional Teaching Foundation is sponsoring the celebration in conjunction with the annual MEA-MFT Educators’ Conference.