Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: 10 Questions for Brooke Powers (KY '17)

March 8, 2018

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Math teacher Brooke Powers (KY ‘17) will use some of her Milken Award to take her kids on a special summer trip as thanks for attending her students’ sporting events, watching her grade papers and playing in her classroom while she preps: “It is not always easy to be a teacher’s kid.” She won Kentucky’s 2017-18 Award at Beaumont Middle School in Lexington on January 9, 2018.


1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?

Brooke Powers: I was truly so surprised that I couldn’t form any thoughts! We were supposed to be attending an assembly about new state testing requirements. I remember being so worried about getting my class to behave during the assembly—no seventh-grader wants to sit through a state testing assembly, and I had no idea how I would keep them entertained. Once I figured out that someone was getting a big award I was making a list in my head of all my very deserving colleagues. I am so very thankful to have had the opportunity to be recognized in front of the people I care about and respect the most.

2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?

Brooke: My students’ first question was if I was going to quit teaching and retire (I’m not, obviously). It has been so fun to see how proud they are of me. There were lots of selfie requests and very sweet comments about how they just knew it had to be me. I love that now they are just as proud of me as I am of them.

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3. How did you end up in education?

Brooke: I never intended to be a teacher. I went to college on an agricultural scholarship and majored in public service and leadership, part of the same degree program as agriculture education. I ended up student-teaching to diversify my resume but was sure I was set for a big career in public relations and marketing.

Something about standing in front of the classroom and getting kids excited about learning won me over. I have never looked back. A really wise principal convinced me to get certified to teach math so that I could bring my real-world approach to a core classroom, and that has proved even more rewarding for me. I am so thankful to have found my passion.

4. Who are your role models as an educator?

Brooke: I am extremely thankful to my high school agriculture teachers, Mr. Stoltzfus, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Godbey, for teaching me that all children deserve a chance regardless of their prior education experiences. They were shining examples of what can happen when students find their niche and passion and incorporate it into core academics.

I have also lucked into finding the MTBoS (Math Twitter BlogoSphere), which has totally transformed me as an educator. The best math teachers in the country, with their amazing ideas and resources, are at my fingertips through their blogs and via Twitter. They all inspire me to work harder and be better each day.

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5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?

Brooke: About two weeks in I was ready to quit. I was eight hours from home, very homesick, and dealing with the typical 18-hour days that so many first-year teachers face. Then, over the intercom, I heard my name called as “Teacher of the Week.” The principal handed me more than 20 nomination forms from students. The kids made me feel special when I needed it most. I am forever thankful that they helped me survive that year.

6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?

Brooke: That no one is born a math person. So many of them have had experiences that convinced them they just aren’t good at math. I hope that after 180 days with me they will have enough good experiences to move them out of that belief and into a growth mindset.

My students probably will also remember “Swami,” my (fictional) college professor, who taught me all about exponent operations; the time I tricked them into thinking someone in their class won the math lottery; and the time I made them taste salt water that they thought was Kool-Aid. It is so important to me to give my students experiences that will stay with them. That way, when they are trying to recall math concepts months or years later, they can use those past experiences to help them reason and problem-solve.

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7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?

Brooke: Providing each student with the individual instruction and time they need to flourish. I teach 120 kids each day with a variety of academic needs, not to mention their emotional and social needs. I want each child to feel loved, cared for, and honored in my classroom. Sometimes I go home in the evenings and can’t remember if I had a conversation with a specific child or praised them enough that day. I want to give them all enough attention to make them feel special.

8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?

Brooke: Still working on it. I do plan to take my children on a special trip this summer as a thank-you for all they sacrifice for me to be a teacher. It is not always easy to be a teacher’s kid. They spend summer days in my classroom preparing for the next year, evenings watching my school kids play sports, and weekend time watching me grade papers and plan for the next week. I definitely want to do something to thank Jackson and Embry for all they do. I also plan to establish a fund to recognize students in honor of a dear colleague we lost at my school this year.

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9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?

Brooke: I would tell them that the days are long but the years are so very short when it comes to a career in education. There are days when I am tired and wonder if the many hours I spend planning, preparing, and then entertaining are truly worth it. But as I look back on my last 13 years in education, I know that they are: I see so many faces and recall the stories that go along with each individual student and their successes.

My uncle was a famous Kentuckian who was quoted in a news story as saying, “When I die I want them to put ‘To be continued…’ on my grave.” I think that is the perfect quote for any teacher’s tombstone. A teacher’s work continues for generations through the students, colleagues, and student teachers they motivate and inspire. Teaching is truly the most honorable profession.

10. What’s your definition of success?

Brooke: Success is getting out of bed every day and saying, “I get to teach today!” instead of “I’ve got to teach today.” Success is finding the career that no longer feels like work and is truly a part of your being because you are so passionate about it.

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