Life is busy for top teacher

Six months ago, Andrea Peterson was in the White House Rose Garden being recognized by President Bush as the nation’s Teacher of the Year.

Since then, life hasn’t slowed down much for the energetic music teacher from Monte Cristo Elementary in Granite Falls. She spent a couple of minutes recently answering a few questions on her way to another speaking engagement:

Q: Where have you been in recent months?

A: Where have I not been? I have hit about 30 to 35 states. I’m in Washington, D.C., several times a month. Next month, I will be in Japan for 10 days. I am there as a guest of the Japanese Ministry of Education. There will be lots of school visits, going to see different programs in elementaries and high schools … Just to give you an idea of my schedule between now and then I’ll be in Atlanta; Kentucky; Washington, D.C.; Virginia; Ohio and then back to Washington, back to Washington, D.C., and Florida. It’s a little crazy. What happens in the new year is hard to say.

Q: How has your life changed since becoming a mom and being named national Teacher of the Year?

A: How has it not changed? One day you are in Washington, D.C., getting picked up by a limousine and being treated like royalty practically and then you are sitting in your house with your daughter who just spit up on your shoulder. I treasure every second that I have with her. No one could be prepared for the joy being a parent brings to a person. The fact that I have had to be away from her has made me realize how much I treasure the time I get to spend with her.

Q: What has been the most interesting experience you have had?

A: Back in July, I was in Philadelphia, speaking to the NEA (National Education Association) national assembly. There are like 10,000 people in the audience.

The president of the NEA comes and joins me on the stage. He starts talking to me like we are having a conversation. He talks about how he likes to talk to his former students, who he sees sometimes at the national convention, how it gets him excited … And he said, “You know when I look at you I don’t think you are even old enough to have a teacher here” and then he points over the far side of the stage …

There is a former student from my first year of teaching at Granite Falls High School. She’s an ag-science technology teacher (in Eastern Washington). She came across the stage and she was so kind and said such nice things about me. I go to so many places and to see someone from home, and to see someone I think so highly of, and to see her there, that is incredible.

Q: What have you learned so far this year?

A: One thing I have learned is just how many people there are in the country who really care about America’s children … In the classroom, you can be very isolated as a teacher. I just don’t think we know how many organizations and people out there who are interested in helping kids achieve. That’s been such an eye opener to me.

Q: Are you finding any new ideas?

A: I will demand more of my students than I have ever before. And I think I hold my students to a high level already. I have seen how imperative it is that kids leave school with an understanding of what excellence looks like and how they go on to be successful if they have that.

Q: Are you looking forward to getting back to your classroom next year?

A: Without question. I went into Monte Cristo last week. It took me about two seconds of seeing the kids to say I think I want to stay there … I miss those kids and I miss doing what I love. That’s where my heart is. But what an amazing opportunity this year has been.

— Eric Stevick

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