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Meet Mrs. Keiper, Our Finalist for PA Teacher of the Year

When Caitlin Keiper was nominated for Pennsylvania Teacher of Year by her colleague Brian Renfer, she was “humbled and honored that another outstanding teacher would think to nominate me.” The two teachers have often shared ideas and energized conversations about instructional design. Mr. Renfer recognized her excellence in this area when submitting her nomination.

Mrs. Keiper has a distinctive approach to teaching her foundational social studies course to sixth graders at New Hope-Solebury Middle School. She designed the course to prioritize personal choice and to offer students experiential learning opportunities. Prior to the pandemic, at points in her classroom, you’d find a student showcasing a full-size metal spear he welded at home or students collaboratively mummifying a mannequin with sponges for organs.

The first few weeks of the school year she dedicates to “learning what makes each kid tick.” She then positions the students to launch cross-curricular projects, such as how the solar system correlates with Greek mythology or how principles of geometry are evidenced in the ancient pyramids. Students can choose what they are most interested to explore, and suddenly she finds, their learning becomes both self-guided and self-motivated. When reflecting on her teaching experiences, Mrs. Keiper shares, “I’m driven by the kid who thinks he or she hates school. Some of my favorite projects have come from the kid who is typically a D student.”

Mrs. Keiper’s other priority in the classroom---modeling what you expect of your students in your teaching. She doesn’t miss a chance to be self-deprecating because it provides a chance to model for students that no one has the answers all the time. When met with the jarring transition to virtual learning last year, she admits that while it was challenging and uncomfortable, the experience was a chance to model resiliency for her students and to explore new strategies. In her words, It’s good to be uncomfortable. It’s how we grow and learn. We expect our kids to navigate discomfort...why not expect it of ourselves?”

During her seven years teaching in the New Hope-Solebury School District, she has felt empowered by the experience and the school leadership. The administrative team has provided support and encouragement for her to teach the curriculum in new ways and to bring her personality into the classroom—befitting to the individuality and creativity she then inspires in her students.

A rigorous application process, a series of interviews, and prepared speeches about topics in education have all been part of her journey as a finalist for PA Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Keiper will continue as a finalist through December 2021. Ready for whatever lies ahead, she says, “If this is as far as I go in the process, it will still have been an incredible experience. I’ve met the most creative teachers and am very grateful for the opportunity.”