Teacher of the Year award goes to NAU grad


Working hard is adding up forĀ Sarah Baird, a math coach in the Kyrene School District named Arizona Teacher of the Year for 2009.

Baird, who earned both a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in early childhood education from Northern Arizona University, credits her own education for getting her life on track.

“I worked hard in high school, but I didn’t find my potential until I attended NAU,” Baird says. “It is what helped me change the direction my life was headed and helped me realize that I have control in writing my future.”

She credits NAU’s College of Education for numerous opportunities to student teach and forĀ Sandy Stone, chair of teaching and learning in the college, who inspired her career.

“I felt so prepared my first year of teaching,” she says. “There was still a lot I needed to learn, but the strong preparation I received allowed me to focus on what I needed to without feeling so overwhelmed.”

Kathy Wiebke, executive director of the Arizona K-12 Center, nominated Baird for the award.

“Sarah is a teacher’s teacher and epitomizes the best this profession has to offer for both students and teachers,” said Wiebke, who got to know the award winner during her work training teachers at the center. “She is a role model. Her perseverance, high aspirations and goals didn’t let life’s circumstances get in the way of what she wanted to achieve.”

Baird says the challenge in teaching Arizona students is that many experience hardships and roadblocks. “Teaching for me is allowing me to help students find the same potential in themselves that a teacher once helped me to find,” she explains.

Nicknamed the “Math Girl,” Baird splits her time coaching math between Kyrene de las Lomas and Kyrene del Milenio elementary schools in the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix. Besides instructing arithmetic in dozens of classrooms a week, she educates teachers in ways to make their lessons understood by students.

“Smile at your kids,” she encourages. “You can have the best lesson, the best activity, but if you smile the impact on their learning grows exponentially. They look at you and hear you differently when you smile. It’s contagious, it lifts them up and it definitely lifts you as a teacher.”

Becoming Teacher of the Year is giving Baird many reasons to smile. She received $20,000, a laptop computer, a SMART-brand interactive whiteboard and a scholarship to Argosy University, with a location in Phoenix, to earn a master’s or a doctorate degree. She also will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet the president and represent Arizona in the National Teacher of the Year competition next year.

“I am humbled to be recognized in this way especially because I work with teachers every day who inspire me and impact my work with children,” Baird says. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be a voice for these amazing teachers and to tell the stories of Arizona’s children.”