Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: 10 Questions for Katie Negen (TX '17)

February 26, 2018

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Like so many other Milken Educators, Katie Negen (TX ’17) was inspired to teach by the educators in her family. At her grandfather’s funeral, students lined up to share stories about him: “I hope to make a fraction of that impact in my career.” Katie received her Milken Educator Award at Slaton Junior High on October 18, 2017.


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

Katie Negen: It took me a moment to really process what had happened. I just knew my friend and colleague was going to be the one. She's a phenomenal math teacher and works so hard to support her students and fellow teachers in any way she possibly can. I never in a million years expected to hear my name.

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

Katie: My principal told me later that the students gave me a standing ovation. I was in such shock that I don't even remember. In the days following, students would approach me at school to give me hugs and congratulate me. I also received several visits and social media messages from former students, who said they were so glad I had been their teacher.

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3. How did you end up in education?

Katie: I've always wanted to be a teacher as far back as I can remember. I come from a long line of educators. When I was in sixth grade, my mother started as a special education teacher and department head in Anson, Texas. In 2007, when I began my own teaching career, she moved into the regular education classroom, where she still teaches eighth-grade reading. I remember being so proud of my mother and helping her grade papers, plan lessons, and organize her classroom each year.

4. Who are your role models as an educator?

Katie: In addition to my mother, my grandfather, Maxey McKnight, and grandmother, Jeanne McKnight, were both educators who had a profound impact on many students' lives. They spent most of their careers in Kress, Texas, where my grandfather was the principal for 38 years and my grandmother taught first grade.

It is amazing to listen to my mother speak about the students she taught over the years, especially the ones who have come back to thank her. It was also extremely powerful to see so many former students at my grandfather’s funeral last June. I sat next to my grandmother and listened to story after story of the ways my grandfather had touched their lives and made a difference. I hope to make fraction of that impact in my career.

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

Katie: Mostly I remember being scared to death that I would make a mistake or mess the students up in some form or fashion. I was blessed with a wonderful class my first year; they made it extremely enjoyable. Those students left a lasting impression on me. I am still in contact with several of them today.

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

Katie: I hope that students will remember how much I cared about them as human beings. I hope they learned more than just English Language Arts; I hope they learned some valuable life lessons along with how to be problem-solvers.

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

Katie: As a TAP master teacher, I work more with other teachers than with students, and I do have a classroom of teachers weekly. The greatest challenge facing classroom teachers is a lack of funding and government support, specifically for rural public schools. Without proper funding, schools like Slaton aren’t able to pay teachers comparable salaries; we lose good teachers to larger districts after we’ve invested hard work, time, and resources into them. Classroom resources are also scarce, and teachers are often faced with buying their own supplies and supplemental materials. Speaking from my own experience as a classroom teacher in rural west Texas, it’s difficult to buy what you need when you make so little, yet you are held to a certain standard by the state.

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

Katie: I will be placing a portion of it in my Roth IRA to invest and help supplement my teacher retirement. I had my first child, Elizabeth Grace, last December, so I will be setting a portion aside for her. My husband and I also plan to pay off a few debts and take a family vacation this summer.

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

Katie: First and foremost, remember that you are the decisive factor in the classroom. You can either make or break a student. Second, hard work and a growth mindset always pay off. Without them, you will never achieve your goals. And last, nothing done well is ever achieved in isolation. Collaboration is the key.

10. What’s your definition of success?

Katie: To me, it’s never giving up. It's about trying, failing, regrouping, and trying again. This is when we learn the most and become the most successful.

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