DeSoto teacher nominated as best in Kansas
Mary Etta Copeland said she attempts to teach her students the importance of doing their best, not of being the best.
The choral teacher at DeSoto High said she applies that goal to her professional efforts as well. Copeland's dedication to teaching and practicing her philosophy has earned her the recognition of being one of the best teachers in Kansas.
During a Sept. 24 banquet in Overland Park, Copeland was named one of eight finalists for the Kansas Department of Education's Teacher of the Year Award. The winner will be named at a Nov. 18 gathering in Wichita.
But, Copeland said it is "presumptuous" to view the finalists or the award's winner as the state's best teachers.
"I don't think that's what the award's about," she said. "I think it's a symbolic representation of many, many, many great teachers."
Her selection earned Copeland a $2,000 award from the Security Benefit Group of Companies and $1,000 from the Nancy Kassebaum-Baker Annual Award for Excellence in Teaching.
It is the second straight year a DeSoto High teacher has been a finalist for the state teacher of the year award. Superintendent Marilyn Layman said last year's finalist, Karen Wall, and Copeland share a dedication to teaching.
"People like Mary Etta and Karen exemplify what is good about public education," Layman said. "I can't think of a more deserving person than Mary Etta."
The process of naming the Kansas Teacher of the Year takes nearly a year, Copeland said. It started last January when teachers in the district nominated peers for the teacher of the year award.
To be considered further, those nominated had to complete a five-page application that a local committee of students, teachers, parents and administrators used to select each district's elementary and secondary teachers of the year, Copeland said.
In April, Copeland and Jennifer Berglund, special education teacher at Monticello Trails Middle School, were selected to represent DeSoto.
The selection meant more homework for Copeland. The district nominees were asked to submit a 15-page application to a regional selection committee.
Copeland said the paperwork included three letters of recommendation from peers, administrators and students. She listed her community involvement, professional background and development.
And perhaps most importantly, Copeland included an essay on her teaching philosophy.
"I talked about the value of human worth the importance of teaching the student, rather than the subject," she said.
The essay was a valuable exercise, Copeland said. It confirmed to her that the idealistic values she brought to her teaching career 30 years ago, work is practice.
This week, Copeland will tape an interview with members of the state selection committee. All members of the selection committee will watch the interview, as well as footage of her in front of a classroom.
"It is really a very powerful advocacy for public education," Copeland said of the entire process.