At The Head of the Class

Writer Writer Amanda Christmann
Photographer Tatum Williams

Ask any adult who their favorite teacher was, and chances are good that, without hesitation, you’ll immediately hear a name or two accompanied by a wide smile. That’s because teachers are special, and the best teachers touch our lives in ways that go beyond academic achievement.

Great educators find ways to connect with students, and are often committed to them inside and outside of the classroom, teaching important lessons that empower them to succeed long after their final grade has been tallied.

For the second year, Rotary Club of Anthem has awarded three area educators with the title of Teacher of the Year. Nominations were open for teachers from all area schools, and Anthem School science teacher Sujata Kumar, Boulder Creek High School algebra teacher Stephen Coots, and Diamond Canyon third grade teacher Anna Kramer have been chosen as this year’s best of the best.

“Our teachers are an integral part of our community,” Rotary Club of Anthem Service Chair Ken Anderson said. “They are our neighbors and our friends, and every day in their classrooms, they make sacrifices for our children. We’re lucky to have them in our community, and it is an honor for us to formally recognize that.”

Each teacher was awarded a plaque, a bouquet of flowers, and a check for $750 at a May 7 breakfast to honor their achievements. Images Arizona thought you’d like to get to know these educators who are making an impact in our schools.

Sujata Kumar

7th Grade Science

Anthem School

Mrs. Kumar began her teaching career in India before bringing her talent and enthusiasm to students in the Deer Valley Unified School District in 2006. Her impressive educational background includes master’s degrees in cytogenetics and in education, and her research projects have led her to delve into plant genetics, molecular biology and genetic engineering.

For some, the prospect of spending the day with middle schoolers seems just as intimidating as molecular science. Not so for Kumar.

“Often when asked what grade I teach and I reply, ‘7th grade,’ there is usually a sigh, followed by, ‘God bless you!’ Middle school students go through a number of changes in the way they think, and they have a sense of wonder which makes them interesting and fun to teach,” she said, making it clear why so many of her students love her.

“The best part of teaching is watching my students connect science with real life experiences, and applying life and study skills while learning through inquiry,” she added. “I consider myself blessed and lucky to be working with a team of teachers and administrators who put students first.”

Stephen Coots

Algebra 3–4; Probability & Statistics; Math Department Chair

Boulder Creek High School

Mr. Coots just concluded his 12th year of teaching at Boulder Creek High School, and though he’s very much in his zone in the classroom, teaching wasn’t his original trajectory.

“I worked as a paraprofessional at a DVUSD elementary school for a year prior to 2006, as I was exploring what the education world was like,” he said. “My original bachelor’s degree was not in education, so when I realized that teaching was what I wanted to do, I went back to school to receive my certification.”

Contrary to what seems obvious, it’s not the numbers that excite Coots about math; it’s the creativity.

“Some people might think, ‘Wait … creativity? In a high school math class?’ I’ve found that it is not about what I am teaching, but how I am teaching it that truly matters.”

He explained, “Even if I’m putting together the standard quiz on trigonometric functions, I have full control as a creator of content. … When I am planning a lesson, I get to decide how I am going to engage this large diverse group of learners. How can I draw them in? How can I plant seeds, water tired minds, while growing wonder all at the same time? A story here, something to laugh at there—with a carefully placed problem that is really hard to unlock without the key I get to give them today.

“When I do it right, I get to step back and watch my students go from productive struggle to a place authentic success.”

Coots is honored by the award, but he’s quick to share the accolades.

“I don’t think everyone fully understands the passion and commitment that my colleagues have to their work,” he said. “I am so privileged to work with a team of 16 other math teachers at BCHS. We care about our students and sacrifice so much time and energy outside of the normal bell schedule for them; staying after, tutoring, e-mailing, grading, retesting, encouraging and affirming.”

Anna Kramer

Third Grade

Diamond Canyon School

Mrs. Kramer may have grown up in Washington State, but if a generation of DVUSD kids have a say in it, she won’t be leaving Arizona anytime soon! For the last 30 years—16 of which have been in the Deer Valley Unified School District—children have become “Kramer Kids” in Anna Kramer’s uplifting and inspirational classroom. Her enthusiasm is contagious.

“I love teaching and look forward to spending each and every day with my Kramer Kids!” she said. “My beliefs about teaching and learning are simple: It is my number one responsibility to assist each student in developing a positive desire to learn, right from the first day of the school year.”

She’s done that with zeal, earning DVUSD Teacher of the Year in 2011, DVUSD Classroom of Excellence distinction in 2016, and the privilege to attend the Phil Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy in 2014.

“First, life in my classroom involves displaying respect for all developmental levels of the learner, focusing on the strengths of each individual,” she explained. “The learning process is highly valued, and I emphasize how lifelong learning is vital and requires thoughtfulness. The teacher needs to be a facilitator, co-learning and demonstrating the necessity and importance of learning.

“Also, I believe family support is fundamental for student progress and success. It is my responsibility to continuously foster and encourage all family members to take an active interest in establishing a positive home and school partnership. As a team, we can accomplish great things!”

That team concept also includes her fellow educators at Diamond Canyon.

“Teaching is a profession that faces new challenges each day and I could never do what I do without my family away from home—my Diamond Canyon family. Walking onto our campus, there is a feeling of family, and I know that, if I need anything at all, I have any and all support necessary.”

It’s no surprise that Kramer also credits her own family as a driving force behind her success.

“I could never do what I do without the constant support of my husband Mark and my kids, Monique and Kaleb. Being a teacher, my family truly makes sacrifices. Without their love and support I could never have accomplished what I have in my teaching career.”

Images Arizona congratulates these educators on their awards. On behalf of our Images family, we also send sincere gratitude to all teachers for their sacrifices, dedication and hard work.

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