When Walker High School teacher Katie Ventura found out that she’d been chosen as one of Puyallup School District’s teachers of the year, she was overwhelmed with emotion.
“I cried,” she said. “I’m still kind of in shock.”
Every year, the Puyallup School District recognizes three teachers from each district as part of the Teacher of the Year award program, which is “designed to recognize a professional classroom teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the education of children.”
Hunt Elementary teacher Kathy Guimond and Rogers High School teacher Colleen Pancake were also chosen as teachers of the year.
For all three of them, getting to know their students and helping them develop lifelong skills is the most rewarding part of teaching.
Ventura started working at Walker High School, an alternative high school in the Puyallup School District, seven years ago. She didn’t know if she was going to stay there at first.
“I did one year and I fell in love,” Ventura said.
Now, Ventura teaches math and Microsoft Office, but wears a lot of hats. She’s also the school’s librarian and tech rep.
With only about 140 students at Walker, Ventura said she gets to work one-on-one with her students often.
“I get to know every single one of my kids. I know what their struggles are,” she said. “The biggest thing that helps a lot of my kids (is) I can sit down or work with them one on one.”
Pancake grew up in Puyallup and is a Puyallup High School graduate. She comes from a family of teachers — her mom to her sisters also work in education. She knew that’s what she wanted to do, too.
“It comes down to the relationships you can build with those kids,” Pancake said. “You see all the positive growth and change with them. You really become a really big family.”
Pancake teachers all Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, classes at Rogers High School, where she’s been teaching for three years. Previously, she taught at Puyallup High School for five years.
“Eight years ago Colleen came to me and said it was her dream job to teach all AVID classes … She’s definitely the right person for this job,” said Jason Smith, principal of Rogers High School.
Smith added that all of Pancake’s AVID students have gone to either a two-year or four-year college. Many of them keep in touch, and her first AVID students are getting ready to graduate college this year.
“It’s unbelievable to see the growth that they’ve had during college,” she said.
When she found out she was Teacher of the Year, Pancake wanted to thank all the mentors she’d had throughout her career.
“I thought of all the education mentors I had along the way I just feel I’ve been really lucky,” she said. “I’ve had a great support group.”
This is Guimond’s 40th year teaching in the Puyallup School District. She grew up in Tacoma and moved to Puyallup in 1977, where she started teaching at Wildwood Elementary. In 1994, she moved to Hunt Elementary to teach second grade, and has been there ever since.
Guimond didn’t see it coming when she was selected as a Teacher of the Year.
“I was really surprised because we’re doing some remodeling at our school and I thought we were (meeting) in there to talk about our new classrooms,” she said. “I had no idea.”
In her career, more than 1,000 students have benefited from her teaching.
“Mrs. Guimond will stop at nothing to ensure her students have what they need to be successful,” said Rebecca Williams, principal at Hunt Elementary.
Guimond said the best part of working as a teacher is when her students’ faces light up when they understand something new.
“It’s definitely the people,” she said. “The kids, the parents, the staff — that’s what makes it.”