MEA member Leah Porter, a 15-year kindergarten teacher from Wilcox Elementary School in Holt, was named the 2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year (MTOY) on Thursday for her commitment to giving all children both the freedom and security of a trusted learning space within her classroom.
“I want to instill a love of learning in my littlest students and help them become competent, capable students throughout the rest of their careers,” Porter said after being awarded the honor by the Michigan Department of Education at a virtual ceremony. “The weight of that responsibility has never lessened in its importance to me.”
Porter was selected from among 275 teachers nominated last fall, a field that was narrowed to 10 Regional Teachers of the Year (RTOYs) in April. All 10 RTOYs were on the Zoom call, and the announcement on the school’s PA system could be heard behind Porter – along with whoops and cheers – when she was asked to unmute herself and offer some words in response.
“I’m just really overwhelmed, and it’s an honor,” she said.
Porter is an exceptional teacher, deeply committed to her students, families, colleagues and learning community, said Holt Superintendent David Hornak. “Leah makes the difference daily, and this recognition is well-deserved… As we say in Holt Public Schools – Leah, you definitely deserve a wow-wow-super-wow.”
Porter said her favorite part of the job is sharing her own passion for reading with students. Beyond teaching them to read, she aspires to give them experiences through words and text that will fuel their own curiosity, enjoyment and growth.
“I love literature, and it’s one of the biggest things that I value when I’m working with my littlest learners,” she said.
Teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year has stretched all educators in ways they never could have imagined, she said, but Porter has found unexpected beauty in teamwork among colleagues across the district and in getting to know and support families more deeply.
“Anytime you bring kindergartners in – even in a regular year – is always exciting, challenging, perplexing, wondrous.”
Asked what she would say to young people considering a career in education, Porter said that building relationships with her students and watching them grow more capable and confident advancing through elementary school and beyond is rewarding.
“That would be the call to come – knowing that we make an impact on every profession. Every facet of our world begins in classrooms with teachers.”
A member of the district’s Equity and Access team, Porter choked up answering why she became a teacher – crediting her childhood educators from North Elementary School in Lansing, who taught her to love the learning community that school provides.
“I loved thinking about how you could be creative (in the job) and have to work and be on your toes every second of the day,” she said. “For all the prep and things that you think teaching will be, it’s a thousand times better than all those things and a thousand times as challenging, too, simultaneously.”
Many educators have been inspired to enter “the greatest profession” from their own meaningful connections to favorite teachers who influenced their lives in powerful ways, state Superintendent Michael Rice said in opening remarks.
The Michigan Teacher of the Year competition is not about selecting the best practitioner in the state, Rice said. “It’s about celebrating an outstanding member of the teaching profession and giving Michigan teachers a voice at the state level.”
Porter and the RTOYs will serve together during the upcoming school year as the 2021-22 Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council (MTLAC). During their year of service, the RTOYs ensure the voices of teachers are present in discussions about solutions for pressing issues facing schools and children.
In addition to her work on the MTLAC, Porter will engage in discussions with a non-voting seat at the monthly State Board of Education meetings and as a member of the Governor’s Educator Advisory Council. Porter is also the state’s candidate for the prestigious National Teacher of the Year award.