OREGON — Kimberly Radostits is living her dream, and it’s not because she was named 2022 Illinois Teacher of the Year.
“Teaching is my absolute favorite thing on the planet,” said Radostits, an Oregon High School Spanish teacher. “I love what I do every single day, and it’s something that I hope all of my students get in their future: to do some kind of job, some kind of career where they get to go every single day and feel like they’re living their best life.”
Radostits, 36, of Fairdale, found out she earned the title of the state’s top teacher on March 22 during a surprise visit from Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen I. Ayala.
The Illinois State Board of Education has sponsored the Teacher of the Year program since 1970. It recognizes “the best of the teaching profession” in the state. All public and nonpublic pre-K-12 educators who have more than five years of experience are eligible for nomination.
“I have known I wanted to be a teacher since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, if you can imagine that,” said Radostits, who has taught at OHS for 15 years.
She holds a bachelor’s in Spanish from Northern Illinois University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Aurora University. In 2011, Radostits earned a National Board Certified Teacher designation.
Teaching is the “coolest job in the world” and allows for 10 times more fun in one day than another person could have their entire career, Radostits said. Her students — past and present — are the reason for that, and also are the reason she keeps coming back year after year.
Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it created for educators across the country, she never felt the desire to jump ship, Radostits said.
“The reason is, every single kid in this school — regardless of whether or not they can be a knucklehead every once in a while — has the potential to do amazing things in this world,” she said.
That’s why, while the content of her Spanish classes is important, it’s not Radostits’ only focus. It’s more important to see her students as humans and to help develop them into good humans, she said.
“So, outside of the Spanish that’s happening in my classroom, I think what I perceive my role as is making sure my kids are successful in all of their classes,” Radostits said.
Her colleagues understand that as well, she noted. School and district staff work hard each day to ensure that every student is recognized as an individual and provided with the resources and support necessary to succeed, Radostits said.
Part of that effort involves examining data about eighth-graders to find out where each student is at and what they need to have the best possible shot at graduating in four years, Radostits said.
“We have somebody that’s really amazing with coding in this district that’s helped us put together an early warning system,” she explained. “That is something that should be pushed out to every single school, every single district nationwide.”
It’s work that began in small-town Illinois, but that doesn’t mean it belongs only in Oregon, Radostits said.
“That’s going to be my thing moving forward, is making sure every single freshman in every single school is known, valued and supported, because that’s what they deserve,” she said.
The community echoes the support offered by colleagues, Radostits said.
“There isn’t a time where I don’t feel like there are people in Oregon that are rooting for me, that are rooting for our kids, that are rooting for any person that is in this building,” Radostits said. “We are in this together, and I think that’s what makes Oregon so unique.”