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She went from corporate America to the classroom. Now she’s Indiana’s 2019 Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Tamara Markey was named 2019 Indiana Teacher of the Year.

Tamara Markey’s path to becoming a teacher was circuitous. She earned an engineering degree, worked in the oil industry, and was a stay-at-home mom before her life-changing decision to study education.

Now, just a few short years into her teaching career, she has won a stunning accolade: 2019 Indiana Teacher of the Year.

Markey, who teaches high school pre-engineering at the McKenzie Center for Innovation and Technology in Lawrence Township, learned of the award at a surprise ceremony Thursday where she was surrounded by students, colleagues, and family.

“When we talked to you, our team came back after interviews and was like, ‘We got the girl. We got the one,’ ” said Indiana State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. “Your whole demeanor is passion.”

Over the next year, Markey will have a rare platform to speak publicly about education issues by supporting Indiana Department of Education initiatives and serving as a voice for teachers. As the Indiana Teacher of the Year, she will also be considered for National Teacher of the Year. Markey was stunned by the recognition.

“This is truly an honor to be able to represent all of the teachers, educators in the State of Indiana,” said Markey, who teaches courses from Project Lead the Way, a non-profit organization that provides training and curriculum for project-based learning. “This is the best job that anyone could have. It’s such a privilege, truly a privilege to be an educator.”

For her students, Markey’s selection as state teacher of the year was not much of a surprise.

“I think she’s a really good teacher,” said 10th-grader Jeremiah Smith, who takes engineering and design with Markey. “She always has us something to do, and all the work she does leads us up to build us into what we want to be.”

Over the next year, Markey said she plans to advocate for the importance of meeting the needs of students from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as well as “diversity that’s beyond just what the eye sees.”

“If we are able to incorporate and connect learning to our students’ experiences, that’s when magic really happens in the classroom,” Markey said.

As a teacher in Lawrence, Markey has led an effort to encourage girls to study science, technology, engineering, and math. The program connects middle school girls with mentors from the community in engineering or technological fields. It appears to be paying off by increasing the number of girls who take STEM courses in high school, Markey said.

For Markey, teaching has always been a passion but it took her years to make it to the classroom. As a college student, she put aside her love for education for a higher-paying career in engineering.

“I had a counselor say, ‘You know, you’re black, you’re female, and you’re good at math and science. You need to be an engineer,’ ” she said. “But that desire to teach never went away.”

After graduating from Purdue University with a degree in industrial engineering, Markey worked in the oil industry for about nine years. Then, she left that career to stay at home with her children for 12 years. As a stay at home mom, she was active in her children’s schools, allowing her to satisfy a little bit of her desire to be involved in education, Markey said.

Five years ago, she made a dramatic change, going back to school to study education through a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow.

When Markey was working in the oil industry, her husband Maurice Markey said he could tell she only did the job because it was expected of her. Now that she’s teaching, she comes home excited about her job every day. “She just has a genuine passion for teaching and what she does,” he said.


Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.

story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

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