It’s Teacher Appreciation Week! Today, we’re featuring Tiffany Herr, third grade teacher at Norwalk Community School District’s Orchard Hills Elementary. Herr has 14 years of experience as an educator and was recently named as a finalist for the 2024 Iowa Teacher of the Year award.

Herr is well-known for her kindness in the classroom and for helping her students reach their goals. She has noted that teachers have 180 days, 1080 hours and 64,800 minutes each school year to make a difference.

The Iowa Department of Education recently caught up with Herr to hear more about her philosophy on teaching and who has made an impact on her own life and learning.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?
My favorite teacher would have to be my second grade teacher, Mrs. Routh. Growing up, I probably would’ve said that she was my favorite teacher because her classroom was fun. But now, as an educator, I often think about her classroom and how much she empowered her students to learn and work collaboratively with one another. I can still remember working in groups, collaborating in centers and how confident she made me feel as a learner.

Why are you passionate about teaching? What things do you love about working with students? 
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher. In fact, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I had decided to change my major from business to elementary education. I had always loved working with children but had never considered a teaching degree until I was in my business classes in college. I realized quickly that I wanted to find something I was passionate about rather than finding a high-paying job. Once I switched majors and started my courses in education, I discovered that teaching was my passion.

I love working with children and having the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of my students. My favorite things about teaching are all of the small moments. These are the light bulb moments in a child’s life when they figure out something for the first time or the quiet moments in our day when students are problem-solving or working their way through a task. And, of course, all the joy and laughter the students bring to me each and every day.

What do you think are the keys to a student’s success and how do you help foster that? 
I think the key to a student’s success is the relationship the student has with their teacher. Children need to feel safe, loved and heard to be able to strive to their fullest potential. I know that students need to feel safe enough to take risks in their learning. They need to know they are loved and cared for throughout their day. And they need to know that they are heard and valued by their teacher. To foster this, I focus on relationships each and every day. From the moment my students enter the classroom until the end of the day, I focus on empowering them and building them up as individuals by providing an encouraging environment that allows them to truly be themselves.

Over the years, how have you grown as an educator? What opportunities do you see in the next few years in education?
I have grown a lot as an educator over the years. Through my time in the classroom, learning alongside my colleagues during professional development, and the two years I spent receiving my masters, I have learned so much. In teaching first, second and third grade as well as spending time as an instructional coach, I have learned how to work with a variety of different age levels and abilities. I would love to keep the doors open for me to pursue more of an administrative role in my future -- though, not anytime soon. I still love being in the classroom.

What advice would you give to a new teacher starting out in the field? 
I think the biggest piece of advice I would give a new teacher would be to always remember to build positive and lasting relationships. You should work hard to build relationships with your students, their families, your colleagues and your administration. Strong relationships will help get you through the hardest days. They will lift you up when you are struggling, problem-solve when you need help and will also celebrate your successes. Having strong relationships can make a world of difference each and every day.  

You have been recognized for your achievements as an elementary educator and are noted for making every student in your classroom feel special. What are some details of your success and why are you dedicated to changing lives each day?
I make every student in my classroom feel special because they truly are special. I believe this to my core. We as educators have the opportunity to shape the lives of students. We have the ability to change the lives of children and impact the world around us. Every single student that walks through my classroom door matters. They deserve a dedicated and loving teacher who genuinely cares about them and their success. They deserve a teacher who takes the time to thoughtfully plan and prepare each day. They deserve a teacher who smiles when they walk into the room. A teacher who pushes them to their fullest potential. And a teacher who wholeheartedly believes in them. Teaching can be an exhausting and demanding job but when you peel back all the layers of what our job entails, there is a child who deserves nothing but the best.