Berthoud teacher named Colorado’s 2024 Teacher of the Year

A woman in a purple sweater hugs a students while surrounded by other students.
Jessica Day, a teacher at Turner Middle School in Berthoud, hugs students after being named Colorado’s 2024 Teacher of the Year. (Ann Schimke / Chalkbeat)

Growing up, Jessica May saw her mother nurture many foster children over the years — 189 to be exact. 

“I got to see her be a mother and a voice for those who didn’t have a voice,” she said. 

May sought to continue that legacy by raising her own voice on behalf of children as a teacher at the front of the classroom. 

“This is my way of doing it,” she said on Friday afternoon after being named Colorado’s 2024 Teacher of the Year in a ceremony at Turner Middle School in Berthoud. 

After speeches in the gym by state and district officials and the promise of an ice cream party for the school, a beaming May headed toward the bleachers where she was deluged by students offering congratulatory hugs. 

The family and consumer science teacher was one of seven finalists for the award, which is given annually by the Colorado Department of Education and other sponsors. She’ll spend the next year serving as an ambassador of sorts for the state’s teachers and will join the education commissioner’s Teacher Cabinet, a state advisory panel of educators. She’ll also represent Colorado in the National Teacher of the Year competition, visit the White House, and participate in NASA space camp. 

May, who last year taught at Conrad Ball Middle School in Loveland, is in her 21st year teaching middle-schoolers in the Thompson school district. It’s an age group she appreciates. They still like hugs, want stickers, and enjoy playing Twister, but they’re also finding their way to the next stage of life, she said.

“Middle school is unique because they’re stuck between being elementary little kids and young adults in high school,” she said. “And I’m trying to help them find their voice.”

May, who has four children of her own, also helps students with life skills that run the gamut from cooking and couponing to personal finance and relationships. 

“Everything that I do, if I can’t hook it to real world relevance, I don’t teach it,” she said. 

Take her rice baby assignment, for example. Students learn about child development (and the challenges of parenting) by using panty hose, five pounds of rice, and a styrofoam head to fabricate a “baby” that will go everywhere with them for two weeks. 

In addition to imparting real-life lessons on students, several speakers at Friday’s awards ceremony noted May’s enthusiasm and her ability to connect with kids. 

“You are emblematic of excellence here in our school district,” Thompson Superintendent Marc Shaffer told May. “I couldn’t be more proud of you.” 

During a short speech, May, who grew up in the northern Colorado district, described herself as “feisty” and pledged to fight for teachers’ needs in her role as teacher of the year. She also told students she loved them. 

“You give us the greatest job on the planet,” she said. “Life is not about money. It is about going for your passion and knowing it in every part of your body.”

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood issues and early literacy. Contact Ann at aschimke@chalkbeat.org.

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