Spotlight: Melissa Kovac (NM '16)March 6, 2017
Second-grade teacher Melissa Kovac (NM '16) knows she's succeeding as an educator when students come back years later to thank her for helping them reach their goals: "Their second-grade teacher will always be there to cheer them on." She received New Mexico's Milken Educator Award at Amy Biehl Community School in Santa Fe on November 2, 2016.
Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?
Melissa Kovac: At a young age I thought about being a teacher. I'm not exactly sure when my "aha" moment was but being a teacher was something I knew I wanted to do since I can remember. I think in high school I realized that it was a definite possibility.
MEA: Why elementary school?
Melissa: The littles were my favorite age. Kindergarten students held my heart for a long time, but now that I'm in second grade…well, they are the best! I started in middle school, but after a year I knew that was not the age of kids I wanted to teach.
My favorite thing is that they still need lots of support but are ready for some real independence. They still like having fun and aren't too embarrassed to do so. The most frustrating thing: tattle tales.
MEA: What was your first job?
Melissa: I was a poolside waitress for a country club. I think in any job the best thing we learn is to have patience. That's something I definitely use daily in my classroom.
MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?
Melissa: My kindergarten teacher. Maybe it's because of all the fun I had when I was there, but even more because when we became colleagues she helped me to be a better teacher. I got to learn from her twice!
MEA: What was your favorite subject?
Melissa: Math. I love knowing that I will need to find an exact answer. I love figuring it out and validating my solution. My least favorite subject would have to be….well, I used to say history, but as I get older I'm finding that I am interested in learning more about it. So I guess I am still working on tackling that one.
MEA: Tell us about your first class.
Melissa: I consider myself pretty lucky—I never had the "nightmare" first year of teaching. I was an educational assistant for a few years prior to getting my degree so I was confident in what I was about to take on. I was extremely excited to finally have my own class where I could use my creativity. The parents I worked with were awesome and the kids were so much fun. One of the hardest things, even today, is knowing that some kids just don't learn or grow as much as I want them to. No matter how I try to reach them, sometimes they leave my class less prepared than I wish they were.
MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?
Melissa: I think they are extremely proud to know that they got to have me as a teacher and that a teacher at their school got this prestigious award. My students cried with me because they were so happy for me, for us, and for our school.
MEA: What do you hope your students remember about your class?
Melissa: I hope they remember that their second-grade teacher will always be there for them and cheer them on in all their successes.
MEA: How do you involve parents and families in your class?
Melissa: I try to bring parents in the classroom in all ways possible. I send weekly newsletters sharing what's happening in the class and asking for volunteers to come in and help with daily tasks. My homework logs encourage parent involvement. I use a communication app that allows me to post daily activities with pictures and writing. I feel that I have a great relationship with my students' parents.
MEA: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Melissa: First thing in the morning when the students enter class with big smiles and hugs. Any mishaps from the day before have vanished and it's a time for us to start new. Greeting each of them by name and with a good-morning hug allows them to know they're safe and that I am here for them.
MEA: What's the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?
Melissa: My biggest challenge is time. There is never enough time in the day to finish, teach, help, and get everything done.
MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?
Melissa: I would split the money up so that all teachers get some extra money for themselves and for their students' learning needs.
MEA: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Melissa: I haven't thought about this much, but since I like decorating and being creative, maybe something like a party planner.
MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?
Melissa: Make the income worth all the hard work, right? This is one of the most rewarding careers a person can choose but, unfortunately, I feel that it's one of the least valued professions. New teachers need to see that they are making a difference. Some of the new initiatives feel like a constant bash on teachers so maybe more recognition of the positive things happening in education.
MEA: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."
Melissa: ...when the relationships I've built with students remain years later. When I see them graduating high school and they come back to thank me for how I helped them get there. When students are excited to see me years after being in my class. When I see my students succeeding and making their dreams a reality.
Don’t miss any new articles and updates from Milken Educator Awards: