Article published by The Daily Nonpareil
Written by Tim Johnson
Becky Liston was named Teacher of the Year not once, but twice this year.
The kindergarten teacher at Edison Elementary School was presented a Teacher of the Year award from Council Bluffs Community School District on May 21 in her classroom.
“I was surprised and honored,” she said.
According to her nomination by Principal Mike Naughton, Liston responds to students’ needs, helps them “feel safe and loved” and sets high expectations for them.
Liston said she is careful to build good relationships with the students.
“At the beginning of the year and throughout, we take time to do relationship-building activities where I learn about their parents and families, their pets and everything,” she said. We take time listening to their stories, asking questions, talking about likes and dislikes.”
Liston credited social media for making it easier to connect with students’ parents.
“I take a lot of pictures through the day and post them to the class Facebook page,” she said. “I really find the students’ parents all love to see their kids in action. We do send weekly notes home, but I think they pay a lot more attention to social media.”
Grandparents sometimes comment on the pictures, too, she said.
On May 29, Liston was surprised with a 2019 Schatz Teacher of the Year award from Book Trust, a national early literacy organization. It was presented by founder and board member Adrienne Schatz during a Breakfast and Books celebration in the school gym.
Sara Pruss, instructional coach in literacy and Book Trust manager for Council Bluffs Schools, explained why she nominated Liston.
“Becky does a fantastic job of helping students choose books for their own reasons, because she believes in the research that when children choose what they read, they are more likely to read,” Pruss said. “Becky, more than any teacher I’ve met in my 16 years of teaching, encourages reading at home. Becky’s love for the celebration of reading (is unmatched). Her social media posts, parent-teacher conferences and invitations to parents to come into the classroom support parents’ efforts.”
Edison has participated in the Book Trust program for three years, thanks to United Way of the Midlands, Pruss said. Each month, each student in kindergarten through third grade gets to pick $7 worth of books from
the Scholastic catalog. The books are usually paperback and very inexpensive.
During the 2018-19 school year, 306 Edison students in kindergarten through third grade chose 5,557 books, according to Tiffany Kuehner, Book Trust president and CEO.
“Book Trust is helping create communities of strong readers,” she said. But we don’t do it alone. We depend on our donors and partners. We also know that our schools and teachers are key to our success.”
On “Book Box Day” each month — the day when the students’ book orders are unpacked — the school turns it into celebration, Liston said.
“We’ve done lot of fun things with that,” she said. “At Christmas, the Grinch stole our box, and the kids had to find it. On St. Patrick’s Day, a leprechaun hid it.”
This spring, students were given points to buy yellow bricks like those in the Yellow Brick Road in “The Wizard of Oz,” Liston said.
“They had to read 10 books to get brick,” she said. “Then we built a brick path to the office — the Edison City, we called it, instead of the Emerald City.”
The miniature city was built out of Scholastic papers, Liston said.
Liston grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, and earned a bachelors degree in elementary education at University of Nebraska at Kearney and a masters degree in curriculum and instruction at Peru State University. She
taught in Nebraska City for 16 years before chalking up six years in Council Bluffs.
Somewhere along the line, she met up with Council Bluffs native John Liston, who became her husband and brought her to the city.
But her interest in teaching preceded that.
“Both of my grandmothers were teachers, and I just always had a desire to work with kids and help them learn, advance and grow,” she said. “And I’ve really enjoyed teaching the little kids, because it sets the foundation for their whole education experience.”