Jada Reeves is the 2019 West Virginia Teacher of the Year. She has spent the last year traveling across the state visiting various schools. Known for her hands-on learning style as a teacher at Bradley Elementary School, Reeves has taken on a new position in Raleigh County as an academic coach at Stratton Elementary School. 

Q. This has been a busy year for you as West Virginia Teacher of the Year (WVTOY). We have done a lot of stories on you within the last year about your winnings, but let’s key in on your experiences. What was the most memorable thing you did this year as WVTOY? Tell us about it. Why was it so memorable and special to you?

A. There are so many experiences to choose from, it is hard to choose just one. However, I feel that participating in the Educator’s Rising Program for aspiring teachers in high school has far outweighed anything else. Our state is in need of educators and grabbing these young people while they are still in school is one of the best ways we can help retain people to stay in West Virginia. By participating in this program, I was able to go to high schools and vocational centers in our state and speak to the young people who were enrolled in this program.

I was also a judge at the state Educator’s Rising Conference where I was able to interact with everyone. It is amazing to see what an impact we can make with these excited and passionate teenagers so they continue their dreams of becoming a teacher.

I also met the president of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), Dale Lee, while working with the Educator’s Rising Program. This motivated me to learn more about the policy aspect of education and to get more involved. I really look up to him and what WVEA does for educators.

Q. Tell us about your duties as WVTOY. Where all did you go? Where did you visit? For what purposes and why?

A. State teachers of the year have an induction ceremony and professional development at Google Headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. I went to Google! There we learned about working with the media, how to give speeches, and we got lots of free stuff from Google as well. We visited schools in California and saw real teachers in action.

There was a policy forum in Denver, Colorado, with policy makers. I was chosen to be a judge for the National Educator’s Rising Conference in Dallas, Texas. Judges are to review projects for future teachers in various projects. There is a national conference for all past and present teachers in Orlando, Florida, every year. There are various professional development opportunities for all levels, but their focus is equity.

I also went to Washington, D.C., for a week. We were served in-depth information from various Smithsonian Museums, and we worked with all the top dog education companies nationally and internationally. All state teachers of the year were invited for breakfast to the vice president’s house with the second lady as well. We even got to meet President Trump in the Oval Office. We topped the week off with a Teacher Prom, which is called the Teacher of the Year Gala.

I also went to space camp! This was in Huntsville, Ala., in which we all got astronaut training for a week. I met several real astronauts as well as people who worked on the rockets. I even got a real space suit!

I was chosen to present at a Whole Child Learning Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In October there will be a next steps meeting in Princeton, New Jersey, where Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) will tell us what we need to be doing after our term in 2019 is over.

My final event before passing the torch will be in New Orleans, where all 57 state teachers of the year from CCSSO will be recognized at the National College Championship Playoff Game!

Other than those national events with CCSSO, I have traveled literally all over West Virginia. I have spoken at the WVEA Delegate Assembly, West Virginia PTA in Shepherstown, and have been involved in various panels such as the Education Alliance and the Legislative Collaborative in Morgantown.

I have visited schools for read alouds, or speeches on overcoming the “hard stuff” in life, or talking to high school students about their future. I am giving several convocations for universities this fall. I have taken part in job fairs for colleges and video conferences for universities. My favorite part is all the keynotes that I have given for various audiences. 

Q. How do you feel about soon passing the torch? Are you going to miss having all these duties?

A. Someone said during your year of service you are so busy, you want it to be over with so you can rest, but then once it is over, you will miss it. This has been a wonderful opportunity! I have never been one to want awards and accolades for anything. To be honest, I never thought I would win, so I honestly did not know what all being Teacher of the Year would entail until I was one of the finalists.

I have learned so much over the course of the past year and I am ready to start implementing all this new knowledge with my students and fellow teachers. I have taken six graduate courses to complete a certification in administration during this year so I am exhausted. I have enjoyed all these duties and will probably miss them but I think a year for a term is sufficient.

Q. We know you had to be away from your family a lot in this position — what was the hardest part about it? Did you feel you were able to be fully present while missing everyone back home?

A. Yes, this was probably the hardest thing. While sitting at the WVTOY gala, I had gotten a text from my daughter moments before they announced the winner saying, “Mommy, I hope you don’t get it because I don’t want you to be gone.” She was 9 years old and is very attached to me. So you can imagine my surprise when my name was called, and then the mom guilt kicked in after it was all over.

However, my family was able to travel with me to several places in West Virginia and when I went to Atlanta. I will say that when I went to California it was tough. That was my very first trip and the very hardest. I had never been away from my two children, ages 9 and 11 years old. I had actually never gone anywhere by myself either or ridden in a plane in 14 years. I cried, the kids cried, my husband cried, but we made it.

All the other teachers were in the same boat as I was and were constantly checking on their kids or Face-timing them to make them feel better. These things got better as the year went by. My husband was able to go to Washington, D.C., with me, which was great. We had never been anywhere by ourselves without the kids.

I was always present when I was here, though. I made time for them. When my son thought they were going on the cruise over spring break without me in March because I was so busy, I knew I had to really set aside time to make sure my kids knew they came first. I know my family will be glad I am finally back into a normal routine.

Q. How do you feel you, in your position as WVTOY, have allowed for more growth in the state?

A. I have worked tirelessly with high schools and universities with teacher recruitment and retainment. I am working on several committees with West Virginia Department of Education with celebrating and elevating excellent teaching and teachers.

We want teachers to stay here in this beautiful state. Out of all the places I have been over the last year, my heart is always in the great mountain state of West Virginia. When you have someone passionate about where they live in a job that they love, it is a perfect opportunity to share the positiveness of remaining here. I am always happy, smiling, and laughing (or singing). I want to share the joy of teaching with other teachers and to show students learning is fun! This will assist in the growth of student achievement and will also help other teachers to rekindle their fire for students.

Q. How do you feel like being in your role as WVTOY impacted students you came across through your travels?

A. This role has impacted students because they see I love what I do and want them to love what they do as well. I tell them you can find the joy in anything you do. I want to use growth mindset theories and be positive at all times. Even looking around my office and old room, I always have motivational quotes around so that when people are around me, they feel that joy. They see me smile. I show them kindness and laugh. Kids need to see teachers who love what they do. One point I always made was that you do not have to go to college to have a job. Trade school is great too. We just want them to be productive citizens of our society.

When conducting read alouds with elementary students, I would discuss being different or feeling invisible and how to help others not feel that way. Students need to be the kind student. I would tell them my personal stories of my compassionate spirit that has helped me in life.

I remember a time in school where everyone was so mean to a new girl. I had a kind heart and hated for people to feel bad about themselves. Well, that girl was only at my school that one year. About 15 years later, we met in an elevator and she recognized me. She said, “You were the only person nice to me at that school that year.” It stuck with that girl that I was kind, when nobody else was.

I want to show students it doesn’t matter what everyone else says or does — just be you, but be kind.

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“I am honored and humbled that I was chosen to represent West Virginia for the 2019 term of Teacher of the Year,” Reeves said. “It was my hope to inspire other educators on a higher level so that all students in West Virginia could show their true potential regardless of their circumstances.”

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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