Brusly High School teacher and Northwestern State University alumna Kimberly Eckert was named one of 50 finalists for the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. Each year, the Varkey Foundation partners with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognize a teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the teaching community. To be considered, a teacher must be nominated by a former finalist then complete a comprehensive application process.
The top 50 shortlist has representatives from 37 countries. Eckert is Louisiana’s first Global Teacher Prize finalist and just one of five from the United States this year.
Eckert earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at Northwestern State, completed her teacher preparation program through LRCE and earned a master’s degree in special education at NSU. She is currently two courses short of a second master’s in curriculum and instruction with a reading focus from NSU.
She has been teaching in West Baton Rouge Parish for 11 years. In addition to teaching English I, she has also served as a special education inclusion teacher, a reading interventionist, speech teacher, mentor and master teacher as well as an instructional coach. Since being named Louisiana’s teacher of the Year in 2018, Eckert has spearheaded the Educator’s Rising program as the state coordinator, working to bring it to communities across Louisiana. The program focuses on elevating and diversifying the teaching community by encouraging high school students to begin training for a teaching career.
Eckert spoke about how the last two years has impacted her teaching and career.
“My work, the reasons why I teach, my commitment to advocacy for students and teachers…none of that has changed,” she said. “However, I’ve been given a tremendous responsibility and a megaphone to amplify my work and the needs of Louisiana classrooms. The things I valued and would strive to communicate in my first nine years of teaching remained the same, but over the past three years more people started to listen.
“I do not believe teachers should have to win awards to be recognized as experts in our field, but I will take every opportunity that comes my way to ensure people know that, too. As for teaching, my students impact me the most every day. They don’t care about having a teacher with awards. They just need a teacher they can trust to teach them, love them, and fight for them.”
Eckert said the greatest need now is enough educators to give every child a high-quality education and their best access to options, no matter their zip code.
“This is a promise we have made to students, and it’s one that is impossible to keep until we mitigate teacher shortage by bolstering the pipeline, retaining and supporting the effective teachers we have and elevating the teaching profession so that top talent sees it for the life-changing, global force that it is,” she said. “Though my research and efforts to recruit teachers started years ago, my work with Educators Rising has allowed me to not only empower myself, but to also empower other districts to actually do something about teacher shortage. Even if every program is only able to produce a teacher or two through Ed Rising, we’ll still end up with two more 21st century teachers committed to equity for all. Given that one highly skilled teacher is able to impact hundreds of lives. I’d say that’s tremendous.”
She said great teachers know that student success comes not strictly from tests and grading, but from relationships, connections and figuring out how to help human beings thrive. Connections are especially important amid social distancing and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruption of the spring 2020 school year.
“We’ve all quickly started to realize the weight and role of teachers and schools in our communities given the epic exodus of our access to them. However, we still have access to each other,” she said.
When asked to offer words of encouragement to teachers and students, she shared the following.
“To teachers, you’ve never been more needed and valued. We have collectively shown an entire world what we do with limited resources, intense demands, very little time, and seemingly endless change. We teach, we connect, we adapt so that our students can thrive. We’re irreplaceable. Take care of yourself but take courage from this moment. People see you.
“To my own students, I’ve told them that their whole generation all across the world will be defined, in part, by these moments. With the moments that we have, like all the others, make the most out of them. During these crazy times, try your best to work hard, play harder, love hardest. None of this was expected, but for the first time in forever, the whole world is in it together.”