GR educator named Wyo. Teacher of the Year

When Brittney Montgomery showed up to Harrison Elementary School last Thursday, she was expecting another normal day of teaching first grade. She didn't know that after the morning Pledge of Allegiance, Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire" would start playing over the school's speakers or that that she would be greeted with flowers, balloons and hallways lined with students holding up handmade signs and congratulating her for being named Wyoming Teacher of the Year. 

"I had no idea," Montgomery said, blown away by the surprise celebration the school put together for her. She hugged students and wiped away tears as she made her way through the cheering crowds. 

As surprised as she was to be celebrated by her colleagues and students, Montgomery was even more surprised when she was named Wyoming's 2022 Teacher of the Year during the Wyoming Education Summit in Cheyenne Sept. 22. The main emotion Montgomery has felt is shock. 

"This whole process has been very exciting and overwhelming at the same time," she said. "I'm very grateful, but still just very shocked."

The process that led to this honor began last spring, when teachers throughout Sweetwater County School District No. 2 were nominated as the district's teacher of the year. She was selected in June and went through a lengthy process that included writing a resume and multiple essays for a statewide committee to review. Despite the amount of work, Montgomery said she appreciated the chance to reflect on her career. 

The week school started in August, Montgomery received a phone call informing her she was one of three finalists from across the state. This phase of the process included giving a keynote speech and doing an interview. Then the WDE Summit took place and Montgomery was named Wyoming Teacher of the Year.

"So just shock after shock after shock," Montgomery said.

The journey isn't over, either. 

According to the WDE, the Wyoming Teacher of the Year acts as liaison among the teaching community, Wyoming Legislature, Wyoming Department of Education, districts and communities, as well as being an education ambassador to businesses, parents, service organizations and media and an education leader involved in teacher forums and education reform.

"I am so excited to work with Brittney as Wyoming's Teacher of the Year," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said in a press release. "Her skill and passion in the classroom and as a teacher leader will represent Wyoming well. Brittany's belief in teaching the entire child is evident - she has a positive impact on the students she teaches. As Teacher of the Year, her influence and impact will extend to colleagues and others across the state and nation."

Montgomery couldn't believe she'd been chosen. She said she doesn't consider herself anything special, she just does what she has a passion for, so being the Teacher of the Year is overwhelming and exciting. 

"I just hope that I can do justice to it because it's a huge honor," she said. "One thing I've taken from it is that it doesn't mean that I'm the best teacher, it just means they saw potential for me to be an ambassador for educators, where I can raise and amplify our voices and just share some of the amazing things that are happening."

Going forward, Montgomery also has the opportunity to be in the running for National Teacher of the Year. If she is chosen, she will be the first teacher from Wyoming to receive the honor. 

Within Wyoming, it's been a while since the Teacher of the Year came from Sweetwater County. The last local teacher to receive the honor was Joan Marie Barker from Green River High School in 1992. 

"We're a really good district, but I think sometimes we're just kind of overlooked, so I'm excited for this opportunity," Montgomery said. "It'll bring some very well-deserved recognition to our area."

Harrison Elementary Principal Steven Lake also recognizes the honor this brings to the district, and is excited for Montgomery to be recognized for her hard work. 

"It's super exciting for her and for our district and our school," Lake said. "She's a great representative of what a dedicated teacher looks like. She's all about kids, and she's all about doing what's best for kids. It's exciting. It's exciting for teachers to be recognized for the hard, hard job that they have."

Recognition is especially appreciated after Montgomery and other educators have adapted to more than a year of teaching during a pandemic.

"[COVID-19] definitely forced all educators to take a little shift and a pivot," Montgomery said. "Last year for Sweetwater County No. 2, I was the first grade instructor virtually for the entire district," she explained. She also had to adjust to teaching both in-person and virtually. While this was a challenge and came with its own difficulties, Montgomery said she enjoys finding ways to adapt and put a positive spin on things. She was excited for the chance to grow personally, and to help the kids stay connected and keep learning. 

When it came to balancing teaching both in-person and virtually, Montgomery "was able to manage both really, really well where none of those kids at home felt like they weren't part of that class," Principal Lake said. "And that's just a credit to her and her ability to reach kids."

Lake believes Montgomery's ability to connect with kids is her biggest strength and that her love for learning is contagious. 

"We're lucky to have her," Lake said. 

Connecting with kids is also one of Montgomery's favorite parts of being a teacher. She loves the hugs and the support she receives from her students. 

"They make you feel so good," Montgomery said. "No matter what's going on, you can walk into a classroom and it all just kind of melts away with their smiles and their excitement to learn. That's what I'm here for." 

She also said one of her favorite things is "seeing when kids realize their potential and watching them grow from where they've come and seeing where they go." Montgomery explained that the first group of kindergarteners she taught are seniors in high school this year, and she's enjoyed watching them "blossom over the years." 

"It's fascinating to me when they do finally realize how special they are, how important they are, and watching them take care of one another," Montgomery said of the kids she's taught. "The reason I'm a teacher is to have that impact. We all want to leave the world a better place, and what better way than teaching kids how to do that for themselves and for each other?"


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