Congratulations to Emma Santistevan, Birch Creek Elementary's 2022-23 Teacher of the Year!
Only three years into her teaching career, Birch Creek Elementary School Teacher of the Year Emma Santistevan has the “skills and insights of a veteran teacher,” says Principal Trudy Wilson. Students, parents, other teachers, and faculty around Birch Creek know Santistevan for two things: she is always willing to try new things and strives to find the best possible practice to use to help her students, and she has a gift for connecting with her students.
Born and raised in Cache Valley, Santistevan grew up attending CCSD schools. She had terrific experiences that inspired her to become a teacher. “I had really good teachers that had good relationships with their students, so that inspired me,” Santistevan explained. One of those teachers was Santistevan’s fifth-grade teacher, Stacie Williamson, who is now the principal at River Heights Elementary School. “I felt like we were a team, and she had our best interest in mind, and that just sparked that joy and the thought that this was something I could totally do. And then I was into teaching forever,” said Santistevan.
Experiences like fifth grade with Mrs. Williamson motivated Santistevan to stay in the district. After student teaching at Edith Bowen Elementary School and graduating from Utah State University, Santistevan decided to work at Birch Creek Elementary School as a fifth-grade teacher. “I feel very fortunate that I was the administrator to hire Emma. This is her third year at Birch Creek, and I often forget that she is such a new teacher to the profession because she is just fantastic,” Principal Wilson expressed.
Throughout her career so far, Santistevan has seen herself grow and improve as a teacher. In addition, she has discovered her teaching philosophy and style. “You can practice so much when you’re a student teacher, but then, when you’re actually in it and doing all these things on your own, you have to figure out what’s going to work best for you,” Santistevan commented.
For Santistevan, what works is being willing to try new things and find the best evidence-based approach for every single part of teaching. “I just keep trying new things. I just love learning, and I tell the kids that all the time,” Santistevan explained. “I tell them that just because I got my degree doesn’t mean I know everything. And I share with them all the time what I’m learning. So we’re all learning together.”
Another focus Santistevan has in the classroom is her relationships with her students. “My relationship with the students is the number one most important thing,” Santistevan explained. “I focus on that so hard at the beginning of the year—on building those relationships and making sure they can trust me so that I can teach them. They will not learn from anyone they don’t trust, especially in the upper grades.”
Santistevan’s approach to building relationships is focused on meaningful conversations and getting to know the whole student, including their personality, learning style, how they like to sit, what subjects they are good at, etc. During the first couple months of the year, she observes the students and then adjusts. “Sometimes we force our students to adjust to what we like, but students will learn so much better if we’re able to figure them out,” Santistevan said. “Really getting to know how students are as a whole person can help us be on the same page. Then we can trust each other and start learning from one another.”
Santistevan takes the time to focus on this relationship with her students, especially the students labeled as ‘hard.’ She has found they trust her more and are willing to listen to what she has to say more than if she doesn’t take the time to build those relationships and or treats them a certain way based on the things she’s heard.
Santistevan shared a story of a student she had one year. This student had a negative relationship with education and adults. “I made it my ultimate goal that year to build a good relationship with that student. And at the beginning of the year, you could tell he was trying to figure me out and see if we would be a good match or if we would hate each other, and I was trying to figure him out too,” Santistevan explained.
The way they developed a relationship was through jokes. “I got to know him, and he ended up being one of my favorites. And I honestly don’t even think I did anything magical or special. It was just taking the time to listen to what he had to say,” Santistevan continued. “When I would listen to him or ask about a story he was writing or laugh at his jokes, his eyes would light up. And I think that’s all he needed.”
Principal Wilson isn’t the only person who has noticed the remarkable gifts Santistevan brings to her classroom. Other teachers, faculty, and parents also see and express their appreciation and awe for what she does. “Mrs. Santistevan encompasses everything you hope your child’s teacher to be and more. We do not say this lightly when we say that a teacher such as Emma comes along maybe once in a student's life,” one parent expressed. “We have no doubt that teaching is her calling in life as it shines through every single day in her classroom.”
Santistevan was honored at the December 1st board meeting.
Emma Santistevan with Birch Creek Principal Trudy Wilson and board member Kathy Christiansen