Rachel Thompson announced 2020 Region 2 Teacher of the Year


Kendall Peterson, Staff Writer

By Kendall Peterson

Spanish and AP Seminar teacher Rachel Thompson, who was named 2020 Teacher of the Year for all of Virginia Beach, has now won 2020 Region 2 Teacher of the Year.

Thompson is representing all of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore, with eight finalists representing other regions.

Thompson feels “deeply ambiguous” about winning 2020 Region 2 Teacher of the Year. “I am genuinely honored to be recognized in this way. I definitely did not expect it and I am humbled to be recognized by the state this way. 

“But I also find it extremely intimidating and I found that the workload that comes with representing the school and the city and now the region adds a whole other level of commitment to my job, and so I feel some ambivalence about being pulled out of the classroom to provide for those capacities when the whole reason that I got into this profession was to be in the classroom. I’m really grateful for the opportunities that I’m being afforded, but I am very concerned about not being where I belong.” 

Continued Thompson, “Some of the things that have always been important to me as a teacher are really coming into focus as priorities for the city and for the state. 

“I think those things are intercultural learning, being global minded, equity and inclusion for students of all backgrounds, and so I think that it just happens to be at a moment where the things that I am most passionate about are aligning with things that the city and state want to do.”

Junior Olivia Galbreath believes “her care for her students is evident in the classroom setting and also outside of it. I think it’s something really rare for a teacher to genuinely care about her students, and she’s really energetic in class, so it’s really fun to be in it. 

“It wakes you up in the morning because she’s so fun and interesting, and she also has a great sense of humor. She has a really positive, uplifting classroom environment.”

Galbreath has had Thompson has a teacher for two years, and she has seen her both in Spanish and AP Seminar. “I’ve learned to be accepting of yourself and also of others. I think that the more genuine you can be, the more it welcomes other people to be themselves as well,” said Galbreath, “so creating that sort of environment is really important and something she inspired me to work toward.”

“I just think it’s exactly what I’m here for. It genuinely feels like a gift to be able to come to school and do these things and have students that care about it and are interested in the world and want to travel and learn more,” said Thompson.

Principal Danny Little said Thompson is “very difficult to describe, one of the most intelligent people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with, but also one of the most passionate people because she loves what she’s doing, and she loves helping others.”

Senior Ellie Protzman, who is also president of Operation Smile Club, said, “You can tell that she really loves her job and that she goes above and beyond for her students.”

Thompson admits that throughout her teaching career, there have not been many difficult challenges. Some challenges would include, however, this year she has two classes with more than 30 students in them, “and that’s really challenging just on a level of being able to give feedback of any quality. And making sure that shy students have the opportunity to speak,” said Thompson.

Thompson also said, “I think the workload has increased almost every year since I started teaching and I think that’s not just a problem at PA, that’s a problem across the country.

We keep assuming that teachers can do more, and there comes a point where even if it seems like a reasonable thing, you really can’t add one more thing to the plate of someone who’s already doing 40 percent more than what they thought they could do”

According to Thompson, the struggle “is figuring out how to best serve the students, while still preserving a sense of balance and defending a private space and a personal life in a profession that demands that you give it up, so I think that’s maybe the biggest challenge.”

Thompson enjoys working specifically with teenagers because it “is like taking an authenticity test every day of your life. Teenagers have very little tolerance for fakeness, and so I think they understand authenticity and when you give it to them, they give it back to you.” 

Thomspon said it makes her more of an honest and reflective person. 

“Professionally, personally, she is just that friend that I’ve never seen her have a cross word with anyone, but it’s always something fruitful and collaborative as she interacts with all of our staff members as well as the students and parents, the community,” said Little.

“As I get older, I feel I become gentler and kinder, and I find that I need to be correct less. And I think that those are lessons that teaching has given me. That it’s about the relationships primarily and that the content only comes after you’ve established that,” said Thompson.

When Little found out Thompson had found Region 2 Teacher of the Year, his reaction “wasn’t surprise because she’s just an awesome person. It’s finally an opportunity for everyone else to see how great she is, but she’s also finally getting the recognition that she deserves.”

When Galbreath found out about Thompson winning the award, she also felt that “she deserves it in every possible way and I’m so happy that I found out, but I’m also not surprised at all because she deserves that.”

“I’m very excited for her and when we went to the awards assembly, I was pleasantly surprised and I think that she really deserves, and that her hard work and dedication has paid off,” said Protzman.

Thompson is now preparing for the selection of Virginia Teacher of the Year. On the morning of Oct. 7, Thompson will go to Richmond to the Virginia Department of Education to give two presentations on predetermined topics to a panel, then have a 25-minute interview in which the panel can ask her anything. 

That night, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the winner for the 2020 Teacher of the Year for all of Virginia will be announced. Thompson said, “That will be the most stressful part of the process.”

Little views Thompson as “that person who would be the ideal person you’d want to have as a best friend because she has your personal interests at heart, where it’s genuine and you know that you’re supported all the time, and she has that with all of her students and everyone that she meets, not just the students that she teaches. 

“She’s someone that sort of sets that example for others and it’s easy for people to come up to her and approach her and for her to just start a random conversation with.”

Thompson said, “I feel really lucky to be able to come to school every day and basically hang out with teenagers and talk about stuff that I think is important and interesting. Who decided that was a job?”