Spotlight: Brooke Lee (OK '19)January 29, 2020
The most important lessons in Brooke Lee’s English class are about perseverance: “Failing makes us overcome obstacles and try harder.” Brooke won Oklahoma’s 2019-20 Milken Educator Award at Will Rogers Junior High School in Claremore on November 26, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: You worked with a local youth services organization to bring their resources into Will Rogers. How is it helping students?
Brooke Lee (OK ’19): Rogers County Youth Services has given our students information they didn’t have before. Knowledge is power, and now they can use that in school and outside of school. For a lot of our students it has become a resource available to them whenever they need it. For some of them it may be life-changing.
MFF: What do you like about middle school students?
Brooke: They are funny, quick-witted and independent, like little adults. Most are eager to learn, and they keep me updated on all the relevant slang. They are also really starting to understand that their choices affect their future.
MFF: What’s the most important thing students learn in your classroom?
Brooke: Not everyone learns at the same pace or the same way. It’s okay to be different and it’s okay to fail. Failing makes us overcome obstacles and try harder. If we learn to persevere and have a strong work ethic then we will get better at whatever it is we are working on. Growth is success and gives us new things to strive for.
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Brooke: I started attending college right out of high school and my major was education. I changed my mind after a few years, thinking I wanted to be a nurse. Once I got married and had children I knew I needed to be in education and follow my passion of teaching and helping children.
MFF: How did your first year go?
Brooke: I remember being terrified at the beginning, but my first year went well overall. I was on a team with two other ELA teachers. One, who had been teaching for 15 years, didn’t support me the way I expected, and the other, who had been teaching seven years, was on maternity leave for half the year. When she came back from her leave, we created the best working relationship I think two teachers can have. We still work together!
Not having any support initially really made me independent and built my confidence. I know that sounds odd, but at the end of the year I felt accomplished. I also had very supportive administration.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Brooke: Donna Gradel, Oklahoma’s 2018 Teacher of the Year and a top four finalist for National Teacher of the Year, was my teacher in high school. She was also my basketball coach and has become a lifelong friend.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Brooke: I was completely shocked and overwhelmed on my notification day. I was so surprised and I kept thinking, “How did this happen? Why me?” I still feel like it was a dream.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Brooke: The students were so amazing. They all kept saying they knew it was going to be me. I still get congratulations from students I don’t have or even know. They have been so supportive and happy for me.
MFF: Any plans for your $25,000?
Brooke: I will use some of it to go to Africa this summer. Donna [Gradel] and I are working on a collaboration with some schools there, so we are going this summer to plan. I’m going to take my husband and children as well.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Brooke: I define success as growth. Everyone can grow and be successful. It can be personal growth, academic growth, or professional growth. We all start on different levels and achieve at different levels. The key is not staying stagnant.
MFF: What do you hope your students remember from their time with you?
Brooke: I hope they remember me always saying how important it is to work hard and stay focused on the end goal. I hope they remember all the times I talked about self-reflection and choice and consequence. Most importantly, I hope they remember how important they are to me and that I believed in them.
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