Marion Teachers nominated for Kansas Teacher of the Year

Shannon Cooper and Topher Rome were honored as nominees for the Kansas Teacher of the Year (KTOY) at the KTOY Region 1 banquet on April 6.

USD 408 Marion-Florence teachers Shannon Cooper and Topher Rome were recently nominated by their district for the Kansas Teacher of the Year (KTOY) Awards.

According to their website, the Kansas Teacher of the Year Award recognizes and utilizes representatives of excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state. Its mission is to “build and utilize a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance and the teaching profession”.

The Kansas Teacher of the Year program consists of local, regional and state competition. The regions correspond to the state’s four U.S. congressional districts. Regional selection committees are responsible for reviewing the nomination forms and selecting three elementary teachers and three secondary teachers designated as semifinalists. Two regional finalists, one elementary teacher and one secondary teacher, are chosen from among these six teachers.

While the two Marion teachers did not make it to the finals, they were recognized as top nominees for Region 1 at a banquet in Salina at the beginning of April and the district couldn’t be more proud.

“Shannon and Topher are two great examples of our teachers in USD 408 who are amazing at their profession and want the very best in each student they teach. We are proud as a district that we have the quality of teachers and staff that we do and will continue to have amazing teachers up for this award for years to come,” said USD 408 Superintendent Justin Wasmuth.

Neither teacher knew from the beginning that they wanted to go into teaching.

Rome, who teaches junior and senior English and dual credit college courses through Butler at Marion High School (MHS), didn’t want to teach at all initially.

“I told my high school counselor, who was a great lady and she asked if I thought about teaching—I’m like, there’s nothing on earth that will ever make me be a teacher. So I went to college and ended up getting a bachelor’s in English literature. I went straight to grad school, never really thought about teaching, thought about getting my PhD, but kinda had some burnout,” said Rome. “So I thought I would try teaching. Marion took a chance on me while I transitioned to the teaching program and was so clueless my first year. They sort of babied me through the process and gave me a change to grow, because I was unprepared for what was gonna be thrown my way as a first-year teacher.”

Rome got his feet under him, felt more confident the next year and has now been with the district enjoying teaching for 14 years.

“I’ve enjoyed it ever since. I should have just listened to my counselor,” said Rome.

He also enjoys leading forensics.

“Just like teaching, each year is completely different depending on the kids you have,” said Rome.

Rome is touched that his colleagues nominated him for the secondary teacher in the district.

“It is an honor. Especially when there’s so many really good teachers that are deserving, but that it does feel nice because it’s your colleagues and you have deep respect for those people. So to know that they think you’re doing a good job is a really nice stamp of approval. There’s so many teachers here that are deserving. I’ve got teachers here that I learned a lot about teaching from when I was a new teacher so to know that they selected me felt really good,” said Rome.

“Mr. Rome is a fabulous teacher and an awesome person. He brings so much energy, effort and enthusiasm to the English classroom and works to make a connection with every kid. Not only is he a teacher, but he is a mentor to so many, and he is a great motivator. Kids love him, his colleagues love him and we love him here at MHS,” said MHS Principal Donald Raymer.

Cooper also didn’t plan to be a teacher, but she wanted to be an occupational therapist. She decided last minute to major in special education and become a teacher. She has been teaching for 23 years at Marion Elementary School (MES) and has moved all around elementary school and has taught first, second, third, title one and fifth grade twice. She is currently teaching fifth.

“I think fifth is my favorite. They’re just a great age of kids. They’re growing and maturing and friendships are changing. They’re funny kids. We have a good time. It’s all about those relationships. Just building them with the kids and building that trust. Making mistakes is hard for fifth graders because I think they’re at the age where they want to impress their peers. And when you make a mistake for some kids, that’s just devastating. So making that safe space for kids so it’s okay to make a mistake, you know? You’re not gonna lose a best friend because of that,” said Cooper.

There are many things that Cooper loves about teaching including that no two days are ever the same.

“You come to school, and even if I’ve had a bad morning, I try to check that at the door and know that when I shut that room to that classroom, I’m there for those kids. I always think of the teachers that I loved when I was in elementary school. What made that teacher special to you? Have those same traits,” said Cooper. “It’s just important to start fresh every day.”

Cooper is married with three kids that she is raising in addition to teaching so she stays busy.

“Mrs. Cooper cultivates a culture of kindness and respect in her classroom, teaching valuable life lessons alongside reading, math, science and social studies lessons each day. She encourages collaboration, empathy and critical thinking in her classroom and holds students to high standards to help them reach their potential. Her passion for education is evident in her classroom lessons and during collaborative opportunities with colleagues. Mrs. Cooper is viewed as a mentor, a role model and a source of incredible knowledge and support for the students she serves and the colleagues she serves alongside in our district. We are grateful for her expertise, care and service to our USD 408 students and families,” said MES Principal Jenna Fanshier.

Both teachers don’t have much time for life outside of their work teaching and they are okay with that. Teaching is what is important to them and they feel supported in their efforts.

“You know what you sign up for. You love that commitment and you love the work. The time’s not a problem, because you care about the kids. If you want to be a good teacher, you put in the time. You do what it takes to make sure that you’re doing the right things for your kids—whatever that looks like. If it’s eight hours on a weekend in grading or it’s going in early to make sure you’ve got a perfect lesson set up. We do whatever it takes,” said Rome.

“Our administration allows us to do this. It has always been like this in the 23 years I’ve been here. Marion supports us and helps us be our best. If I have an idea, I feel comfortable going to my administration. They’re supportive of it. They allow teachers the creative freedom to work with kids in ways that we know needs to be done,” said Cooper.


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