Sarah Zike is director of membership at Kappa Delta Pi.
On November 7, I was privileged to attend the Indiana Teacher of the Year banquet for the first time. I’m fairly new to K-12 culture (having worked in higher education before KDP), so it was an amazing experience for me. I sat at a table with a semi-finalist and her colleagues and listened to stories from their week at school. They were jovial, telling about intense moments that seemed amusing and commonplace to them, but that I know only a teacher could manage on a daily basis. Then, Kathy Nimmer, the 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year, gracefully stepped up to the podium with her yellow Labrador, Elias.
The audience was silent.
Kathy’s experience as a teacher began with a transformation at a young age, when she was diagnosed with a degenerative illness that caused her to lose her vision. She was pulled from a sighted, public school and sent to the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). As a student at ISBVI, Kathy described not just the physical transformation that occurred with her illness, but significant emotional and intellectual shifts as well. The process of transformation she experienced became a guide for building her extremely effective approach to students and to her craft as a teacher.
Nigerian poet, Ben Okri, said: The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.
Kathy describes a difficult and frightening experience as a blind teacher in a fully sighted school in the beginning of her career. She reports that she almost gave up entirely when the obstacles seemed too great. Through the support of her school district, her colleagues in the building, and her mentors, Kathy was able to develop systems that not only helped her manage the day to day challenges of her circumstances, but to become highly effective with her students.
As a creative writing teacher at Harrison High School, Ms. Nimmer is in a unique opportunity to help her students, struggling in their own ways with very personal concerns, find their voices. As an Olympic Torch Bearer in 1996, a Golden Apple award winner, a state teacher of the year and a winner of many other awards, Kathy shows us that she is an excellent teacher. But, we also understand that she isn’t just an excellent teacher (which is no small feat by itself!), she illustrates that helping others find their way in the world is more important than any one person’s struggling. She is a model for how so many of us should aspire to live and a reminder of how so many teachers, KDP members included, already live.
At the event, KDP Executive Director, Faye Snodgress, presented Ms. Nimmer with a year of membership and a gift. We—I, Faye, and all KDP staff—know that no gift can match our gratitude for teachers like Kathy Nimmer, the teachers at my table, or the collective members of KDP. Thank you for all you do and for helping to shape the world through your work, no matter how difficult.