Whitney Morgan says she knew she wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember.
“I’m not sure I ever really chose teacher as much as it chose me,” she said. “Ever since I was little, I’ve known that it was what I wanted to do.”
It appears her profession chose her well. At just 29 years old, Morgan learned last month that she was the 2019 Kansas Teacher of the Year — a remarkable achievement for an educator so early in her career.
Morgan grew up in the Shawnee Mission area, and attended Sunflower Elementary and Trailridge Middle School before graduating from SM West in 2008. She credits her English and Spanish teacher in Shawnee Mission for helping reinforce her love of teaching and learning and spurring her on to study education. She went on to major in education at Kansas State, and returned to Shawnee Mission to do her student teaching at SM Northwest in the fall of 2012.
Experience working in Kansas City, Kan., as part of her minor in non-profit leadership at K-State attracted her to Wyandotte County, though, and she accepted her first teaching job at Wyandotte High School for 2013-14. Morgan has been there ever since, teaching English language arts as well as English for Speakers of Other Languages.
Morgan was nominated by her colleagues at Wyandotte High School and went on to become the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools candidate for the award. She went on to advance through the regionals and become one of eight finalists for the award. She learned she was the Kansas Teacher of the Year at the Kansas State Department of Education’s annual banquet in Wichita in November. The award comes with a $4,000 cash prize, and earns her the right to represent Kansas in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
All eight finalists gave remarks at the awards banquet, and Morgan chose to focus her speech on the “why” of what motivates her.
“In two words, it’s for love,” she said. “I love teaching and I love learning, and I learn so much from my students. In my classroom this year I have students who are originally from 12 different countries. We have a great sense of community in our classroom. And that’s one of the things I love, if that there’s a drive to take care of one another first and foremost.”
Her ability to teach students from a wide range of backgrounds is among the skills that Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson cited in announcing her as the winner.
“She is truly a remarkable teacher and very deserving of this honor,” Watson said. “Whitney uses collaborative learning to engage students from all backgrounds and abilities. She has demonstrated strong leadership skills at Wyandotte High School and is working closely with her colleagues on school climate.”
As the Kansas Teacher of the Year, Morgan will serve as an ambassador for education throughout the state along with the other finalists for the award.
“I’m truly honored and humbled,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with other educators across the state as an ambassador.”