OREGON — Kimberly Radostits’ excitement at being selected as a finalist for 2023 National Teacher of the Year is tempered by the sorrow that comes from missing her students and colleagues in the Oregon School District.
“Though this is a great honor, it also comes with the responsibility that is taking me away from the people that fill my heart,” said Radostits, who teaches Spanish at Oregon High School. “My network is growing, and that’s been wonderful, but it’s hard to be away from the people that fill my bucket all the time.”
On Jan. 25, Radostits – known as Ms. Rad to most around her – was named one of five finalists for 2023 National Teacher of the Year. The announcement came 10 months after the 37-year-old Fairdale resident was picked as the 2022 Illinois Teacher of the Year.
The National Teacher of the Year Program was created in 1952 and is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers, a national nonprofit organization that represents 58 leaders of K-12 education systems in the U.S. and its territories.
This year, finalists were selected from a cohort of 55. The other four are Harlee Harvey, a first grade teacher from Alaska; Carolyn Kielma, a high school science teacher from Connecticut; Jermar Rountree, a pre-K-8 physical education and health teacher from Washington, D.C.; and Rebecka Peterson, a high school math teacher from Oklahoma.
The National Teacher of the Year winner will be announced in March, following finalist interviews with a selection committee. The winner will spend a year serving as an ambassador for education and as an advocate for other teachers and their students.
The award was called “the most prestigious honor that a teacher can earn in the entire country,” said Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala during Wednesday’s news conference at the Oregon School District office.
“To be named one of just five finalists in the entire country speaks volumes about the kind of educator Ms. Rad is and the kind of impact that she has had here at Oregon High School,” Ayala said. “I couldn’t be happier than to have Ms. Rad representing our state of Illinois at the national level.”
Ayala said she was struck by Radostits’ accomplishments: contributions that extend in and out of the classroom. Ayala said Radostits’ message that teaching is fundamentally about relationships and students must know that their educators care before they’ll care about learning.
“Education is at the foundation of our society, and the teaching profession is full of amazing educators who are giving their best to students each and every day,” Radostits said. “In my 16 years in the profession, I have experienced a tremendous amount of joy as I have grown alongside my students in the classroom and the colleagues in my building.
“I love being Ms. Rad, and I love wearing every hat that comes with that role,” she added. “I’m so incredibly proud of the work that is done in schools, not only here in Oregon, but across the state and the nation.”
She pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how “we were all asked to do the unimaginable” at its onset. Three years later, Radostits is confident that those involved in the education system have grown stronger and repeatedly proven themselves “capable of amazing things.”
Oregon High School principal Heidi Deininger called Radostits a champion, a problem-solver and a trailblazer for anyone and everyone connected to the education profession. Positively impacting and changing the lives of her students is her No. 1 priority, Deininger said.
Radostits is a teacher who has not only the content knowledge and skills to teach, but also understands that teaching life habits to enable future success and offering continuing support is part of what students need to grow, said Tom Mahoney, Oregon School District Superintendent Tom Mahoney. Radostits never forgets students health and well-being, he added.
“Ms. Rad embodies all of the qualities that not only make up an exceptional teacher, but also a mentor,” said Alyssa Leary, an Oregon High School junior. “Ms. Rad is always going above and beyond to make sure every single student in the building knows that they are important, supported and loved. Whether it be talking with her for just a minute or an hour, Ms. Rad always makes you feel like you matter.”
Leary said Radostits is “a light in the world” who inspires others to be better versions of themselves.
Radostits said she strongly believes relationships can overcome all obstacles. There is power in mentoring and in relationships between educators, students and parents, as well as the greater community.
“We need to have those important conversations in order for us to transform education and make it something that we’re proud of, because these people are the ones that are carrying the torch,” Radostits said.