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May 8, 2023

Congratulations to Rebecka Peterson, Oklahoma Teacher, 2023 National Teacher of the Year!

I had the exciting opportunity to sit down with Rebecka Peterson to learn about her experience as a teacher and her journey to receiving the prestigious honor of Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year in 2023, and being named one of the five finalists for 2023 National Teacher of the Year. Since our interview at the end of March, she has gone on to be declared the 2023 National Teacher of the Year. Peterson is a high school math teacher at Union High School and is also a first-year volunteer tutor with Reading Partners Tulsa at McAuliffe Elementary School. 

The competition she faced was steep: Peterson was one of five finalists out of the 56 State Teachers of the Year finalists. Even though she was visibly excited about the nomination, Peterson expressed her ambivalence about the competitive aspect of the recognition. “Teaching,” she said, “is not a competition, but a collaboration.” Nonetheless, she understands that this recognition provides an outstanding opportunity to use her voice to elevate the voices of other teachers. 

Peterson also shared her experience of being out of the classroom as Teacher of the Year. This year her church, Forest Park, has committed to supporting McAuliffe Elementary. Because she has a lot of autonomy over her schedule outside of speaking events, she felt this year would be the perfect year to commit to a consistent weekly tutoring schedule with Reading Partners, a program with which she has always been impressed but has never had the time to participate. Coming into the elementary school setting gives her a tangible way to get a small glimpse of what it’s like to be in early childhood education and what it means to understand the work of Reading Partners.

Growing up, Peterson lived in four different countries. Her father is from Iran, and her mother is from Sweden. Reading has always been an important part of her life, and she grew up learning to read English using phonics. “You see those wheels spinning in their heads,” she says of Reading Partners students. “How empowering it is to be able to read! This program has been rewarding and interesting.”

teacher of the year

Peterson also spoke about her blog, One Good Thing, which has a special place in her heart and life. She started contributing to the blog during a time of change in which Peterson was moving from a college classroom to a high school classroom. “It’s different going from somewhere where students had to pay to listen to your lectures to a high school classroom where students were more or less forced to listen to what I had to say. It was more than just delivering content–I had to really deliver something important. I had to nurture something.”

She made the choice to switch to a growth mindset of gratitude and write about something good that happened in the classroom each day. “If we’re not careful,” she explains, “we can become so withdrawn that we just form this downward spiral. Gratitude will jolt us out of that spiral, right? Gratitude wakes us up and tells us that actually there’s so much good. And not only is there so much good, I get to be part of that good. And I don’t know very many professions like that.” She has been contributing to the One Good Thing blog for over a decade and has written 1,400 postings.

Reading Partners has proven to be challenging but rewarding for Peterson. “I have this little learner in front of me,” she said of her reading partner. “We can actually see that it’s not easy, but I think it’s something we can’t afford not to be intentional about. I think [the Reading Partners program] shows largely that we need to bring the public back into public education. And you have to have these validity partnerships for so many reasons. First and foremost, it takes a village. I just have so many good things to say about this program.”

Overall, Rebecka Peterson’s journey to becoming the National Teacher of the Year shows her commitment to education, her dedication to her students, and her passion for empowering others. We are so happy for her achievements and the enrichment she brings to Reading Partners each week. Her recognition as 2023 National Teacher of the Year provides her with an opportunity to use her voice to elevate the voices of other teachers and to promote collaboration and support in education. Congratulations on this terrific honor, and thank you for your commitment to Tulsa’s students in Reading Partners and beyond!

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