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Educator of the Year: Kathryn McMacken

May 30, 2012

Kathryn McMacken (in pink) with Julie Madigan, Elizabeth Chappell and Tracy Fisher

The Coppell Gifted Association is pleased to announce Kathryn McMacken is the recipient of the 2011-12 Educator of the Year award.

Mrs. McMacken has taught GT students for the past 24 years, 14 years in Coppell. Despite her many years working in gifted education, she continues to educate herself by attending gifted conferences like TAGT and conducting further research into best practices. She views every day as filled with teachable moments as well as an opportunity to learn something new, often from her students. “These kids make teaching so exciting and I learn so much from them.”

As the GT Specialist at Mockingbird Elementary, she works with over 100 students and helps them grow through their elementary years. She appreciates the wide array of needs of her GT students: emotional, social, and academic, and works diligently to meet those needs by combining fun activities with learning. She cautions outsiders not to think that Challenge is all fun and games. “These kids have to work really hard to keep growing,” she says.  She also provides assistance to the classroom teachers and asserts that GT kids need more than a typical classroom environment can provide.

“The perception is that these kids will be fine in the regular classroom. However, these kids need to be constantly learning, growing and being challenged. If not, they turn off.” – Kathryn McMacken

Her main goal has always been to teach students to be independent learners: to be responsible in their learning, to manage their time, and to do their best work. This year she also focused on developing critical thinking skills using the dimensions of depth and complexity through research and questioning. By the time they finish elementary Challenge, her students have established problem solving skills that will help them succeed in secondary coursework and beyond.

McMaken provides this advice to other teachers:

“You have to provide a safe environment for kids. You have to let them be successful. They have to learn to fail as well; they can learn from it as long as you talk about it and guide them.”

Parents had a lot to say about the environment students experience in McMaken’s class:

…she (Mrs. McMacken) is organized, communicates well and in a timely fashion, knows (my daughter) (really knows her as a person and student) and provides feedback that is helpful and constructive. She is on top of things and she appreciates my child as an individual – and as a parent, I appreciate that enormously.

…I have seen him (my son) be able to fly through homework and other educational activities because of what she (Mrs. McMacken) teaches them. He told me just the other night that his homework was easy “because Mrs. McMacken already taught me this in challenge…”

…My girls enjoy her class so much.

… She volunteers to do extra things, like Math Olympiad, so the high achieving math students can have the challenge.

…My son is one that in every year since 1st grade at some point has found school boring or just doesn’t like it. That is except for Challenge with Mrs. McMacken. He always looks forward to that class and wishes he could spend more time there. When I asked him specifically his favorite thing about Mrs. McMacken, he expressed that she always “helps” him. When probing a little further I took it that she meets his specific needs–finds out where he’s coming from as an individual and gives him guidance with that in mind.

…She appreciates the uniqueness of each student and doesn’t try to change them, but challenges them to improve themselves. She doesn’t compare kids.

…As a parent, I have interacted with her both as a parent of one of her students and as a parent of a student trying to get into the GT program. She uses the same courteous, informative, and individualized communication regardless of the student she is talking about. She really takes the time to meet you where you are and give you as much knowledge in a particular situation as she can. I know she is stretched to meet the needs of all of her students as well as the school as a whole (acting as support for all the classroom teachers) but she does it with grace and enthusiasm.

Perhaps this one student summarized it best:

…(I) enjoy having Mrs. M as a teacher because she doesn’t hover around like other teachers do. She gives the students freedom to work. Mrs. M will give the kids the resources to use, then step back and let (us) figure it out on our own (or work together as a group). Mrs. M makes the learning fun.

Congratulations to Mrs. McMacken.  CGA applauds her intense dedication to the education of gifted students and appreciates all she does to make a difference in the lives of gifted children.

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