Rachel B. Pittman ’17, MEd ’19 has a passion for shaping young hearts and minds through education, and her commitment to her students has not gone unnoticed by her peers. Pittman has been named the 2021 Teacher of the Year by her fellow educators at Mayport Coastal Sciences Elementary School in Atlantic Beach, Fla.
Pittman, who teaches reading and language arts at Mayport, is known for her wealth of knowledge and the passion she has for sharing it with both her students and fellow educators. Mayport Principal Katie O’Connell highlighted how Pittman invests in her students daily, often staying late to plan fun, exciting, and highly engaging lessons to help them grow and develop strong academic habits.
Mayport’s recognition of Pittman as Teacher of the Year underscores her role as an innovative teacher and leader inside and outside of the classroom.
“Being the Teacher of the Year at Mayport Elementary gives you a badge of honor as a teacher,” O’Connell said. “Others look up to you. Her classroom is used as a model for other teachers to visit. Rachel was nominated by her peers, and the reason her peers nominated her was that she is always so willing to help others. Many teachers go to her to get support.”
Mayport Elementary is a Magnet School for Coastal Sciences. As such, students get the opportunity to participate experientially in the school’s coastal sciences program. Under O’Connell’s leadership, the core vision of the school is to provide students with a quality education, to engage students in critical thinking skills, and to develop well-rounded citizens.
As Mayport’s Teacher of the Year, Pittman has also been nominated to be the VyStar Teacher of the Year for Duval County. The Vystar Teacher of the Year Award includes a monetary prize, a car, county-wide recognition, and the ability to apply to be the Teacher of the Year for the entire State of Florida.
Q&A with Rachel Pittman
To celebrate Pittman’s hard work and the honor of being named Teacher of the Year, we sat down with her for a brief Q&A in which she reflected on her love of teaching and how Florida Southern prepared her to engage and empower her students in the classroom:
1. What drew you to teaching? What have you loved most about serving as an elementary teacher?
From a very young age, I always wanted to be a teacher. I absolutely loved school, and I adored all of my elementary school teachers. It has been a dream for me to be the person that my students look up to. My favorite thing about serving as an elementary school teacher is having the opportunity to teach my students the skills to read. Watching a student read their first word or write their first word never gets old, and it’s the reason I take great pride in what I do.
2. What does it mean for you to be named Teacher of the Year at Mayport and nominated by your principal for the VyStar Teacher of the Year award? How does it feel?
It is an incredible honor to be named the Teacher of the Year at Mayport Elementary School. This recognition has felt surreal because in teaching, you often feel like you’re not doing enough, and the work is never really done. It is very humbling for me to be named the Teacher of the Year because it means that my colleagues and administration have seen the effort and the passion that I have poured into my teaching, and it encourages me to continue to learn and grow to become an even more effective teacher for my students.
3. What was your time at FSC like? How did the education department equip you for your current role?
My education at Florida Southern gave me invaluable hands-on experience and content knowledge in the area of explicit phonics instruction that I use daily in my own classroom. Without the opportunity to work at the Roberts Academy school and take Orton-Gillingham classes, I would not be as confident or knowledgeable in working with beginning readers in my kindergarten class. I truly credit the coursework and staff at FSC in both my undergraduate and graduate studies for preparing me to teach children how to read. This is the most important work I do!
4. From your perspective, in what ways does teaching make a consequential impact on our world?
In my opinion, teaching makes an enormous impact on our society. Outside of the household that students live in, their teachers are the second greatest impact on their life. I am sure we can all remember at least one teacher from our childhood that left a significant impression on us. While I am incredibly passionate about teaching beginning reading skills, I know that my relationship with my students affects their emotional, social, and mental well-being as well. This is an incredible responsibility to pour into children that are not your own, but it is absolutely worth it when you change just one life.