A high school English instructor who values connections with students and making lessons relevant was selected as the Blue Springs School District’s 2014-15 Teacher of the Year.

Ashleigh Bertrand of Blue Springs South High School says it was “unbelievable” being chosen as the district’s top teacher, especially with the other 21 nominees who were just as deserving of the honor.

“It seemed impossible,” she added on the chances of her being named Teacher of the Year.

“Ashleigh’s sharp, caring and always thinking,” said Blue Springs South High School principal Charles Belt. “She is someone who goes great lengths to know and relate to her students and challenges them intellectually.”

He added that with his “phenomenal staff” this school year, a number of Blue Springs South teachers could have been nominated as a building Teacher of the Year candidate.

“It’s not only a great honor for our school, but a great honor for all of us in the district,” Belt said of Bertrand’s award. “There are so many great educators in Blue Springs. It’s humbling to be recognized out of nearly a thousand certified staff members.”

The Examiner interviewed Bertrand on her achievement and about how she inspires students every day in the classroom.

Q: How does it feel being Teacher of the Year?

Bertrand: It is such a huge honor – especially after meeting and hearing about all of the nominees this (Friday) morning at the breakfast. I’m beyond flattered and humbled.

Q: What do you do differently in your classroom to engage your students?

Bertrand: My students know that I care about them – about their success and their background and where they want to go. I try to find common ground with them. I want them to make connections with what we read so they can enjoy what we read. I want them to grow as a writer so that they will value writing. I help them connect their words with their world.

When we read works by Shakespeare, for instance, I ask students why they survived all this time. Why are his themes still universal and relevant?

Q: What is your education/teaching philosophy?

Bertrand: Building strong personal relationships with students is the foundation on which I’ve built my professional work and worth. As a result, teaching is not only more successful but also more rewarding. And a colleague introduced me to a B.F. Skinner quote, “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” I know that my students won’t remember most of my classroom instruction, but they will remember my attitude, how I treated them and how I handled myself.

Q: Describe a time when you believe you made the most positive impact on a student.

Bertrand: Whenever a student tells me that he/she has decided to pursue English in college, I get so excited. And the idea that I may have inspired someone to do what I do is the best compliment I can receive. Most of the times it’s just the simple things, such as allowing students a voice in my classroom, either through anonymous essays or just an open environment that encourages dialogue.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring or beginning teachers?

Bertrand: Find a mentor, someone whom you respect, whom the students respect, and whom other teachers and staff respect and do not be afraid to ask for advice. Be flexible. Be forgiving. Be yourself.

The Blue Springs district Teacher of the Year selection process begins when each building submits a candidate, usually selected through a nomination and voting process by the staff. The district staff helps with the judging process by reading applications and then two judges, Jim Glennon from Jostens, a yearbook and class ring company, and Pat Crowe, a retiree from the district, interview each candidate for a final decision.