Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Taylor Trost (NJ '23)

May 21, 2024

Taylor Trost (NJ '23), a fourth grade teacher at Grace Norton Rogers Elementary School, often thinks about the students she met during her first year of teaching: "They taught me so much about building relationships with students and the value of spending the time and energy to ensure your classroom becomes a family." Taylor received a New Jersey Milken Educator Award in Hightstown on October 11, 2023. 

Milken Family Foundation: How have students responded since your Milken Educator Award surprise?

Taylor Trost (NJ '23): Since receiving the Milken Educator Award, previous students have reached out sharing excitement and pride about the Award. It has been such an incredible way to reconnect with students who are well into their high school years about what they remember from elementary school, and what they are up to now. For this, I will be forever grateful! My current students always talk about how much they loved being a part of such a big moment in my career. 

MFF: Who are your role models as an educator? Is there an experience you had in the classroom as a student that has shaped your practice?

Trost: As an educator, I have had the privilege to work alongside so many talented peers who have consistently encouraged creativity, risk-taking and a student-centered environment. Between my teammates and administration, I have been able to learn so much that has impacted the way I view and approach instruction and relationship building. In addition, as a teacher in an In-Class Support (ICS) setting for many years, working with an incredible co-teacher has allowed me to grow and collaborate in ways I could have never imagined. There isn’t one particular role model that comes to mind, but the village of talented, innovative and dedicated educators that I have worked alongside. There is everyday greatness that is happening in schools and classrooms across the country and it is that idea that really drives me to continue to make an impact in my small corner of the educational landscape. 

As a student, I found I often had so many questions to ask in order to understand the lesson or concept at hand. It was always the teachers who made the class feel comfortable and open enough to be vulnerable to ask the questions that stuck with me. I found I grew and learned the most from the educators who valued the classroom community as much, if not more, than the content they were teaching. 

MFF: Tell us about your first year of teaching. 

Trost: I was incredibly lucky throughout my first year teaching. I was paired with an extremely talented special education co-teacher, a passionate mentor who continues to be a great advocate for students, and worked with really supportive peers. It was the community of teachers that really helped me grow, learn and survive all of those learning experiences you have as a first-year teacher. 

I think often about the students I had during my first year. They taught me so much about building relationships with students and the value of spending the time and energy to ensure your classroom becomes a family. As a first-year teacher, I started the year with a strict nature that I believed at the time was the key to classroom management. Throughout the school year, the giggles, inside jokes, songs and games we played taught me that, in reality, the best classroom management approach for me would be grace. Giving students grace, respect and a heaping dose of fun have been the best classroom management tools for me ever since. 

MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?

Trost: I hope that my students remember how they felt as a fourth grader. Feeling seen, understood and celebrated for what makes them special is what is most important to me. While I am sure they may remember the games, or the projects, or their best friends, those details have a way of fading with time. However, when they hear “fourth grade,” hopefully what remains is a warm feeling because it was a great experience for them. 

MFF: You have established yourself as an education leader early in your career. How has mentoring student teachers and peers helped inform your own practice? Is there any advice you would give your students to help them improve their community leadership skills as they grow up?

Trost: Working through a mentorship lens, whether it be with future or current teachers, has really allowed me to develop intentionality in my own practice. Being utilized as a model classroom means that your door is always open for peers to observe, question and try new things. Through this approach, I have been able to explain the thought process and purpose behind my instructional systems or decision-making. This has required me to continue to improve, challenge myself and ensure that I am being purposeful in all aspects of my planning and delivery. It has been a great opportunity to share tips and tricks that have led to super engaging lessons, really impactful systems and techniques that have been effective for different learners.

When I was early in my career, I worked with a principal I deeply respect. She was the one who pushed me by saying, “I see something in you, and I want you to get involved.” For me, it was someone else’s confidence in me that encouraged me to get involved in committees, participate in leadership opportunities and take chances. Sometimes, you need that encouragement from someone else to utilize your skills before you can see those characteristics within yourself. Therefore, my advice to my students would be to surround yourself with people who cheer you on. When you choose to spend your time with people who want you to shine, that positivity will flow through all you do!

MFF: What advice would you share with people who are interested in becoming teachers?

Trost: I truly believe there is not a more rewarding, fun and creative profession than working in education. However, it can also come with its fair share of multi-tasking, unique situations and task pressure. My best advice would be to find what makes you love this job and hold on to it tight. Remember the things that make you love teaching and incorporate them into your days as often as possible. In addition, make your mental and physical well-being a priority. They say “You can’t pour from an empty cup," and that is absolutely true. When you find the right environment, as well as systems and routines that prioritize what you need to feel healthy and successful, you will be able to fully enjoy working with the students in front of you. 

Watch our interview with Taylor Trost (NJ '23) on the day of her Milken Award notification:


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