Sugar Hill Elementary School teacher Katie Blum has been recognized at the county level after being named Gwinnett County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year for 2021. The North Gwinnett Voice recently contacted Ms. Blum to find out more about her teaching philosophy, her favorite subjects to teach, challenges she has overcome and more. Here’s what she had to say:
North Gwinnett Voice: What prompted you to pursue a career in teaching?
Katie Blum: Since my earliest memories, I have always wanted to be a teacher. I was the little girl who grew up playing school, except I never grew out of my love for teaching and desire to become a teacher. As I grew up and volunteered with elementary students in high school and college, it was further proof to me that this is what I was truly called to do. I cannot think of another job where I would feel as much passion and joy as I do in education.
NGV: What’s your favorite subject to teach and why?
KB: This is a really hard question for me! As a second grade teacher, I teach ALL of the subjects!! I guess if I had to narrow it down … my two favorite subjects to teach are math and reading.
I LOVE math because numbers have always made sense to me and there are so many manipulatives (tangible math tools) to use to help students grasp and understand math concepts. Math can be very hands-on and the kids love hands-on activities. I use many manipulatives such as base ten blocks, spinners, dice, number lines, giant blow up dice, counters, etc. to make math learning hands on, engaging, and fun!
However, I have a strong love for reading as well! When you teach a child how to read, you are truly changing their life. Reading is powerful and I strongly believe that once a child can read; they can do anything. Becoming a reader is like opening thousands of doors in life and having new adventures to experience forever. Second grade is such a great year for reading because typically students transition from “learning-to-read” to “reading-to-learn”. There’s a big transition in independence in second grade and it’s magical to watch. It’s also incredibly rewarding to help striving readers gain confidence and strengthen their reading ability. It’s a real life “lightbulb moment” when they begin reading on a second and third grade level and can independently read and understand what they are reading.
NGV: Describe your teaching philosophy.
KB: My personal philosophy and beliefs about teaching are simple. I believe genuine relationships are the most important aspect of teaching. I believe that children learn and thrive most when they know their teacher truly loves, respects, and supports them in all of their academic and personal adventures. I also believe that children are most successful in active classrooms that incorporate kinesthetic learning such as movement, songs, and hands-on activities.
NGV: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
KB: This question is easy for me. Everything I do is for my students. Every year I work hard to create genuine relationships with each of my kids and develop a class family. Everything we do throughout the year is revolved around being a family. We refer to ourselves as The Blum Class Family and once they are a part of my family, they will always be a part of my family. My husband and I do not have children yet, and I firmly believe that God gives me 24-30 kids each year to love and treasure as my own. I love the lightbulb moments when they finally get a skill they’ve worked so hard for, I love our Friday dance parties, I love seeing them rise to the high expectations we set together, I love our class family motto that we start each week with, I love watching them succeed and grow tremendously in their knowledge and skills in just 180 days, I love their precious hugs, toe taps, and high fives — I love my kids.
NGV: What are some challenges you’ve overcome in your teaching career?
KB: One of the major challenges I can think of is five years ago when I first moved to Georgia, I didn’t know anyone except my husband who was my fiancé at the time, and I was hired as a kindergarten teacher at Sugar Hill Elementary. I spent weeks and hundreds of dollars, that I totally didn’t have being fresh out of college, setting up my kindergarten classroom to be my perfect “first classroom”. I fell in love with my precious little five year olds and an amazing kindergarten team. Then, three weeks into school it was announced that we were under the enrollment expectations and that I was going to be displaced to another school within the county. I was devastated at the thought of starting over, losing my class of kindergarten students, and making friends all over again after being at Sugar Hill for less than a month. I was displaced to Riverside Elementary and found out that I was going to be an Early Intervention Program teacher for kindergarten and first grade students, and a technology specials teacher for 4th and 5th graders. I remember crying all weekend about starting over only a month into the school year, losing my new friends and students, and figuring out this new life in Georgia — that was not off to a great start. However, the administration and first grade team at Riverside truly took me under their wings and made me feel at home within just a few short weeks. I went from devastated and crying to learning and growing in new ways and developing friendships that I still have and am so grateful for today. As it turns out, it wasn’t the end of the world for me and I became a stronger reading teacher, made friends with teachers and community member that I would have never met otherwise, and grew up as a person. After my year at Riverside, I did decide to transfer back to Sugar Hill where I began teaching second grade and have stayed ever since. However, I would not be the person or teacher I am today without this experience and the friends and mentors I made along the way.
NGV: What does being named GCPS Teacher of the Year mean to you?
KB: First of all, this recognition and award was completely unexpected and beyond my wildest imagination! Every year when we would celebrate the TOTY at Sugar Hill, I always was so impressed with the TOTY and often thought to myself, “Wow, maybe one day in my career I will be Sugar Hill’s teacher of the year”. But never did I expect that it would be so soon, and I certainly never imagined that I would become Gwinnett County’s teacher of the year. I honestly was not even going to apply for Sugar Hill’s TOTY after originally being nominated because this has been such a crazy year in education. But my friend and coworker, Jen Schmitt, called me and encouraged me to fill out the application! Oh goodness am I grateful that she pushed me out of my comfort zone!! This is the greatest honor that I have ever received. While I am so grateful for this unbelievable award, I would not be in this position today without the guidance, encouragement, and influence from my family, friends, mentors, and the educators in my life. I also would not be here without God’s blessings and His grace. Becoming Gwinnett County’s teacher of the year is not just a reflection of my own abilities and accomplishments. More so, I truly believe it is the reflection of the leadership, teammates, colleagues, and students that I am surrounded by each and every day, that challenge me and support me as I aim to be the best teacher that my students deserve.
Secondly, I feel a great sense of responsibility to represent my colleagues and the field of education at the highest caliber. There are approximately 12,500 teachers across Gwinnett County working harder this year than they have ever worked. Thousands of teachers are making the impossible possible while teaching concurrently (teaching digitally and in-person at the same time). I know many of my fellow educators have been challenged with unprecedented situations this year. I hope to remind teachers to remember their “why” and to do what’s best for children every day, as much as they can. I strive to be a voice and advocate for all teachers, a liaison to the community, and I hope to shine light on the greatness that Gwinnett County’s incredible teachers have accomplished during such a challenging year.
— Staff Reports