Meet Indiana’s Teacher of the Year Tamara Markey
Photographer: Ron Wise
She’s patient, kind, enthusiastic, passionate about teaching and the STEM curriculum, and she cares about guiding her students to prepare them for their future. Meet Indiana’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Tamara Markey.
Mrs. Markey is a pre-engineering teacher at the McKenzie Center for Innovation and Technology in the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, and she’s only been teaching for five years, one of which was her student teaching requirement. In that short time, she’s made a big difference in the school district and in the student’s lives.
Markey earned her Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Masters in Engineering Technology Education and entered the workforce as an engineer working for Amoco Oil and BP Pipelines. Though she enjoyed her work, she noticed there was something missing.
“I loved the job, but it never fulfilled me personally,” Markey says. “My passion and desire to teach never went away.”
The family moved to Indianapolis, Tamara’s husband’s hometown, to be near his parents as they were in declining health. Once back in Indiana, Markey heard about the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship for STEM professionals. The national teaching fellowship program recruits the nation’s best and brightest recent graduates and career changers with STEM backgrounds and prepares them to become educators in middle and high school science and math classrooms. After being in the workforce nine years, raising her three children for 12 years, and taking time out to be the caregiver for her father-in-law who was in declining health, Markey seized the opportunity to become an educator.
After researching the program, Markey began the formal application process. She participated in a screening interview at Purdue, then the next step required her to design a lesson and teach it in front of the panel and other applicants. Finally, several weeks later while on vacation, Markey received the news that she’d been selected for the teaching cohort and IUPUI.
The transition to teaching was an adjustment for the entire Markey family, but her husband and children accommodated.
“They’ve all been so supportive, especially my husband, and they’ve even learned how to cook,” she says.
All the adjusting was worth it, because Markey couldn’t be happier with the school district to which she was assigned.
“I work in one of the best school districts, and I landed at an awesome school,” she says. “The leadership has been wonderful, and my colleagues have been too.”
All teachers will tell you some aspects about teaching can be draining, and Markey agrees. But, what makes Markey special is her gift with high school students.
“I love the high school level,” she says. “Teenagers can make it hard on their parents to pull stuff out of them. But it’s different for me because I’m their teacher. These kids are young adults, and they let me in their world and talk to me. They’re more mature at this level and eager to explore. I encourage kids to problem solve, think critically and explore pathways for their future. I want them to identify their likes and dislikes, and if that’s not science, technology, engineering or math, I want to help them explore that too.”
Markey guided one student who shared with her his love for building cabinets, something he spent a lot of time doing with his grandfather. Markey connected the student with the right teachers so he could explore that option for his future.
“Teaching is truly a heartfelt profession,” she says.
As excited as Markey is to earn this award, her journey is far from over. It started in the spring of 2018 when she was awarded the District Teacher of the Year. In July, she began the intense application process for the Indiana State Teacher of the Year. She sought letters of recommendation from the superintendent and other colleagues and peers.
“They all had a vested interest in the outcome because they helped me,” she says. “So, when the time came for the announcement, it was a win for them too. They all sent me emails, Facebook posts and phone calls. This award means the world to all of them too.”
Now it’s on to the application process for the National Teacher of the Year. The application process will be similar to the Indiana State Teacher of the Year, and finalists will be chosen in early 2019. In the meantime, she’s looking forward to sharing her experiences with other teachers. She’s been invited to speak at a banquet honoring all the District Teachers of the Year around the state, and she’ll have several other speaking engagements where she can share her experiences with other teachers.
As the 2019 Indiana State Teacher of the Year, she will fulfill two obligations. First, she will be working with the Indiana Department of Education on 2020 state education initiatives.
“The achievement gap in education across the country is heartbreaking,” Markey says. “I’ve seen the data. Indiana has identified the categories that need improvement in Language Arts and Math, and we have aggressive goals to close that gap.”
At the national level, she’ll travel to the White House in January to meet other State Teachers of the Year from all over the nation including U.S. Territories. There, she’ll have an opportunity to share her philosophies with other educators and be involved in lots of professional development opportunities.
“I hope I represent Indiana well and use this platform to the best of my ability,” she says.
With Markey’s exposure in the national arena, she’ll have an opportunity to influence key education leaders and policymakers with her message.
“My message is simple. I’m an advocate for instructional equity,” she says. “That means not only understanding the diversity in achievement levels, socio-economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds in the classroom, but having an understanding of what happens outside the classroom. We have to change how we deliver curriculum to the whole student, try to figure out how to increase parental involvement and show kids what education can do for them long-term. We need to reach the students who perform at a lower level as well as be careful not to let the high achievers regress due to their fear of failure. It starts with early learning and goes through 12th grade. The success comes when you marry those goals.”
Markey’s commitment to teaching goes far beyond the classroom.
“We have to prepare these kids for their future,” she adds. “Our success as a nation and staying competitive globally depends on it. I don’t want to see kids fall through the cracks. We can’t save all of them, but we can sure try.”
For more information on Lawrence Township Schools, visit ltschools.org.