Editor’s note: As part of our celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Week, we are highlighting a few outstanding educators from classrooms across the state. We thank all teachers for their dedicated work with Iowa’s students this past year.

Today’s Q&A session spotlight features Cedar Falls Community School District teacher Julie Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick has taught for six years and currently teaches computer science and mathematics for grades 10-12 at Cedar Falls High School.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Dave Arns at Waverly–Shell Rock High School. I had him for Calculus and Trigonometry, and he was great at letting his students think without giving too much away. I felt like I could ask him any question, and he would be able to push my mathematical understanding further. His class was also the first class I ever programmed in. We made this AWESOME TI-84 program to calculate Riemann Sums. This simple program opened a lot of doors for me.

Why are you passionate about teaching? What things do you love about working with students?

I love facilitating learning so students can discover ideas and grow a love of learning. My favorite feeling is when a student has that “Aha!” moment by playing with a concept and seeing the pattern and structure. My students bring me so much joy. They surprise me every day with their insights, questions and wisecracks. Teaching can be difficult, but my students make it soooo worth it.

What do you think are the keys to a student’s success and how do you help foster that?

Discovery, empowerment and community. I spend a lot of time in my classroom helping students make connections to their peers and teaching teamwork skills. I empower my students to explore new ideas by asking interesting questions and pushing them to dig deeper into topics that interest them. The coolest things that happen in my classroom occur when students are working together to make or build something that I haven’t explicitly taught them.

Over the years, how have you grown as an educator? What opportunities do you see in the next few years in education?

In the past 6 years, I have grown a lot in the skill and practice of integrating the content of the course to student interests. In my programming courses, I have opened up a lot of projects so students can take the project in their own interest area and run with it. This year, I took on the role of Robotics Coach, so in the future I foresee connecting that extracurricular to my courses.

What advice would you give to a new teacher starting out in the field?

Find your people. This career is too hard to go solo. If you’re at a small school, the internet exists to connect with others. I would not be the teacher I am today without my amazing team and my community online.

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