Iowa's Teacher of the Year

Aileen Sullivan, a veteran chemistry teacher who equips her students with skills that transcend the classroom, is the 2018 Iowa Teacher of the Year, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced today at Ames High School in Ames.

“Teachers are the single most important influence on learning inside schools, and Aileen Sullivan is making a difference for her students and colleagues,” Reynolds said. “I am thrilled that our 2018 Iowa Teacher of the Year is a mentor and a model teacher in Ames as part of Iowa’s teacher leadership system, which is helping to strengthen instruction, in order to raise achievement and offer new career pathways for top teachers.”

Sullivan, 43, has taught at Ames High School since 1996. She is known for challenging her students, her colleagues and herself to grow and improve.

"Aileen stands out as a true leader in having her students achieve deeper-level learning," Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise said. "In Aileen's class, students become chemists and collaborate to apply their learning to real-world situations."

Sullivan said putting students in charge of their own learning leads to deeper-thinking skills – and keeps them engaged.

“I strive to create an environment in my classroom where students are constantly given a chance to think and make connections within their learning,” Sullivan wrote in her Teacher of the Year application. “I give them ways to take control of what they learn so they will become more confident in what they know and more confident in tackling things about which they are unsure.”

Sullivan comes from a long line of teachers in her family and married a teacher, Joel, who also teaches at Ames High. She started envisioning herself as a teacher back in third grade, when she drew pictures of herself sitting at the teacher’s desk.

Sullivan said she initially modeled teaching the way it had been taught to her.

“The way I learned was that the teacher was in front, and it was a very static thing,” she said. “Years ago, I was standing at the board doing traditional teaching when I realized I knew exactly where I was going with the lesson, but the students did not.

“I discovered that having students regurgitate work doesn’t work. I eventually learned to create meaningful work for the students, not just work.”

A good teacher, she said, is flexible, has a vision of where things are going, and reacts to how things are going.

“Because of the Iowa academic standards, we had to reorganize, and it’s been very exciting,” she said. “Being reflective is key: ‘What went well, what do I need to shorten up?’ You need to be constantly reviewing, revising lessons, anticipating what’s going to happen, but still be able to react and adjust to what happened.”

Sullivan and her husband live in Ames with their two sons, Lane and Leo.

Finalists for the Iowa Department of Education’s 2018 Teacher of the Year are:

  • Heather Anderson, a second-grade teacher at Grant Ragan Elementary School in the Waukee Community School District

  • Chelsea Bissen, a business teacher at Carroll High School in the Carroll Community School District

  • Jeremiah Cooper, a technology education and architecture/engineering teacher at Waukee APEX in the Waukee Community School District

  • Susan Jordan, a second-grade teacher at Morningside Elementary School in the Sioux City Community School District

  • Keith Kersten, a life science teacher at Logan-Magnolia Junior-Senior High School

The Iowa Teacher of the Year award was established in 1958. The annual program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education through an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature. Honorees serve as ambassadors to education and act as liaisons to schools, higher education, and organizations across the state.

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