Kathy Powers

State and City of Residence:
Conway, Arkansas

Job Description:
Middle School Reading and Language Arts teacher

Why do you work in education? 
I love to teach because my students are endearing and challenging and hilarious. Teaching is fun! I get to laugh every day, learn new things, empower children, foster excitement for learning, and impact the future in a positive way. It’s the best. 

Tell us about something that you have done in education that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community?
In 2014, Arkansas was ranked fourth in the nation in the number of new National Board Certified teachers, which is something to celebrate. Every student deserves to be taught by accomplished, National Board Certified teachers who have proven to be dedicated to a career in education and believe in pushing themselves professionally to better serve our most vulnerable students. Although the process for becoming a NBCT is rigorous and lengthy, achieving National Board Certification is not only good for student achievement, it is rewarding both professionally and monetarily in Arkansas. 

In a state that ranks a low 13th out of 17 SREB states in average teacher salary, having that avenue to increase your own teaching salary is an added incentive for dedicated teachers to begin or renew the process. However, legislators recently proposed changes to the rules reducing and removing financial incentives for NBCTs in our state, which would serve to discourage teachers from seeking or renewing their National Board Certification. When the proposal came up in a recent state school board meeting to reduce NBCT incentives for teachers, I immediately went to work mobilizing my networks. I began by crafting a message outlining my position on the legislation and sent it out to the forum for public comment. 

Next, I sent a copy of my message to every NBCT network in my state and every NBCT teacher in my district asking them to add their voice to the fray. Then I sent individual emails to every state school board member, every legislator with voice on the issue, and my state Commissioner of Education, Johnny Key. I heard back from three state board members, two legislators, and Commissioner Key. Commissioner Key was well aware of the issue, and replied, “I appreciate your thoughts on the issue. The ALC Administrative Rules and Regulations committee will be the first committee to consider the proposed revisions… Please don't hesitate to contact me if you need any additional information.” 

The state board members and the legislators had not heard much and wanted more information. The board members who responded were supportive and happy to hear from so many classroom teachers. The legislator representing my district, David Meeks, replied that I still needed to monitor the issue because “Any legislation proposed would most likely come up in the 2017 General Session, although it there is a small possibility it could come up during a special session this year. This is something I will watch and continue to get feedback on.” He said he was grateful for the information, and he even accepted my invitation to visit my classroom. In the end, our efforts paid off. The rules were pulled and the proposed revisions to the bill eliminating incentives for NBCTs were dropped. We found out when we read the headline in the major state paper the next day, “State drops bid to limit bonus to nationally certified teachers.” I met with Commissioner Key the next week, and he said that the battle was won this time, but that the issue will come up again the next budget discussion. Our students deserve the most dedicated, highly trained teachers, and we need to encourage every career educator to pursue or renew NBCT status. When the issue rises again in the legislature, I will be ready!

What’s your favorite part about being an America Achieves Fellow?
My favorite part of being an America Achieves Fellow is definitely discovering that I have teaching soul mates from all over the country! My fellow America Achieves educators feel like family to me. The friendships I have developed within the fellowship will last a lifetime. I celebrate when I read about their accomplishments in the newsletter, and I am always inspired to try new approaches when tackling similar issues in education in my state.

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about our current education system, I would make the Common Core standards universal, national standards. We watered them down in my state for political reasons, and I think it does a disservice to our students. I love teaching with higher standards and complex texts because despite public perception, children love challenging tasks. They are so capable of discussing and comprehending text on a sophisticated level if we give them the means to do so. There are a couple of reasons I like Common Core standards, particularly in Arkansas: basing curriculum on higher standards is one positive step towards narrowing the academic achievement gap for my neediest students, and common standards also allow educators to network on a national level to share ideas and techniques to better serve students. 

What’s the best thing a student ever said to you?
The best thing a student ever said to me was, "I didn't know I was smart until I had you as a teacher, Mrs. Powers."

What is one fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
I have shaken hands with President Obama in the Oval Office, and I even fist-bumped him on a dare from my students. I have also met Michael Jordan's parents.

What is one book every educator must read?
Every educator should read The Once and Future King by T. H. White. The story is a benchmark tale for so many modern texts, and Merlin was such an amazing teacher! His lesson that we are all connected and that great leaders can grow and learn from the failures and successes of even the smallest creatures, is a powerful one. T.H. White was one of the original proponents of the growth mindset!