Spotlight: Erin Wyatt (MD ’19)December 16, 2019
Science teacher Erin Wyatt (MD ’19) sees teaching diversity and tolerance as a professional mandate: “We have the responsibility to produce young people with the highest level of integrity and respect for all.” She won Maryland’s 2019-20 Milken Award at North Harford Middle School on October 2, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Erin Wyatt (MD ’19): I was speechless! My principal told us that our school was receiving an award for our 1:1 Technology initiative, so I wasn’t expecting anything. It took me several minutes to fully understand what was going on because I did not initially hear my name. When I realized they were talking about me, I could hardly move.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Erin: My students were so excited and happy for me. One of my parents sent me a picture taken by one of the news channels that showed her son’s reaction. That email was the best gift! One student said, “Mrs. Wyatt, you do a lot for our school, thank you.” Another student drew a caricature of me for the Aegis newspaper.
MFF: How did you land in education?
Erin: I have always been surrounded by educators in my church and family. My parents are educators. My father, Retired Command Sergeant Major, was a Junior ROTC instructor for at least 13 years. My mother, who has been an educator for more than 30 years, truly influenced my love for the field of education. Their compassion for helping students is amazing. My high school teacher, Ms. Sue Fox, was phenomenal and so influential in my love for science. She inspired many of my classmates to pursue careers in science.
I initially wanted to pursue a career in medicine or scientific research. I attended Yale University’s pre- medical summer program and did various research internships. When I started my family, I realized I wanted to do more. I wanted to encourage students to embrace the world of science and its impact on society. I wanted to help students take advantage of wonderful career opportunities. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing my students grow and embrace their potential for learning.
MFF: What do you like about teaching middle school?
Erin: This is the most challenging stage of my students’ lives, due to all the changes they’re experiencing. Middle school students just want their teacher to pay attention to their needs and show interest in them. If I can help make their time in school a positive experience, they’ll stay engaged in learning and be more confident academically.
MFF: Tell us about your “Unify Harford” curriculum.
Erin: Laurie Namey (the former supervisor of equity and cultural proficiency for Harford County), a group of teachers from North Harford Middle, and I wanted students to learn about themselves and how to appreciate diversity. We wanted them to understand what is acceptable and what is not. School should be a safe, supportive environment for all students.
Our vision is to see excellence through equity. We wanted to teach students how to value and respect themselves and others for who they are. We felt that if educators all over the county embraced the beauty and power of our curriculum and implemented it in a responsible manner, this initiative would help us teach all students about self-respect, respect for others, and respect for their surroundings. We believed it could be contagious and would lead to extraordinary outcomes in addressing school discipline matters, reducing the dropout rate, stemming bullying and harassment, and most importantly increasing academic performance.
We must send and demonstrate a strong message that every student is valued and appreciated, and we need everyone on board with this belief. The bar must be set high for every student in HCPS and across the nation. As educators, we have the responsibility to produce young people with the highest level of integrity and respect for all as they embark on a life in the workplace and community.
MFF: You founded the Girls Club to help young women who needed a positive role model. Why?
Erin: I am like most educators: We just care. We are in it to win it for all students! I know that just because a student has not reached their true potential today, doesn’t mean there isn’t a future for them. The Girls Club advisors and I believe that all students can rise above brokenness. We believe positive influences in a child’s life can counter the negative influences and give a student hope. It will make them feel valued and believe that they can—and they will!
MFF: Who are your role models?
Erin: My mother and father. They have dedicated most of their lives to help students reach their highest potential. Not only did they provide academic and emotional support for students, but they also gave financially to make sure the students they encountered were geared for success.
MFF: What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Erin: My first year was challenging because I wasn’t an education major in college. I knew my content, but classroom management was a whole different story. The staff at my school helped me make a smooth transition into the classroom. At North Harford Middle, we are truly a “work family.” We support and know each other in and out of the building.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Erin: Success for myself is when I reach a goal I set in my life. Success is also when I am able to reflect on a lesson and make modifications that are in the best interest of all my students, not only to address their needs but to maximize their potential. Success for my students is when their confidence increases throughout the year and growth is evident.
MFF: Any plans for your $25,000?
Erin: I haven’t had time to sit down with my husband to discuss the financial award. Teaching, being a mom of three, and being my children’s taxi driver has kept me busy. We plan to sit down during the holidays to discuss how we can use this gift to support both our children’s educational needs as well as opportunities to enhance my own educational toolbox so I have more to offer my students.
MFF: What do you want your students to remember about their time with you?
Erin: I hope they are able to maintain a positive attitude and believe that hard work pays off. I want them to be able to say that Mrs. Wyatt truly cared about us and provided a great learning environment for us to grow and dream. I want them to have fond memories of their time with me and value the fact that I wanted to raise the bar for them because I believed in them that much. I want them to be motivated about doing great things in life and understand that they are essential in helping this world embrace goodness, no matter where their travels take them.
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