2023 TOYs

Teachers of the Year, Friends from the Past
Posted on 10/30/2023
Two amazing teachers, who first met many years ago, met again on stage at this year’s Convocation to receive the district’s Teachers of the Year award. Fifth Grade Teacher at West Indianola Mary Beck was named the Preschool/Elementary Teacher of the Year and Seaman High School Special Education Teacher Cassie Cowan was named Secondary Teacher of the Year.

It was 1979 when Mary and her family moved to Berryton, Kansas. Mary and Cassie lived about two miles apart from each other on parallel dirt roads. Mary recalls first meeting Cassie on a bike ride with her brother. “We rode further than we ever had that day and we saw some kids hanging around outside their house. They had a big barn, which was impressive to two ‘city kids.’ We didn’t know anyone in the area, so seeing some kids our age outside playing was super exciting. We stayed and played there for a couple of hours and rode our bikes home, only to find out my mom was really worried because we’d been gone for so long. We were just excited to have new friends! We realized that we were all different ages, so we wouldn’t be in class together, but we did get to ride the bus together.”

Years later, Mary and Cassie both became teachers at Seaman School District. “I think I saw Mary at an inservice at the high school many years ago where we recognized each other,” said Cassie. Mary had seen Cassie at other district events, but never made the connection until that inservice day, “Cassie got called up to play a game with the presenter. I thought, ‘That looks like Cassie Henry!’ So, I asked her and we realized we did know each other from Berryton and Shawnee Heights days.” When Mary and Cassie were announced as this year’s teachers of the year, Mary said to Cassie, “Who would have thought a couple of Berryton Buffalos would be Teachers of the Year together!”

Mary and Cassie both knew they wanted to follow in the footsteps of the teachers in their family, although Mary did try to tempt fate. “In 10th grade, we had to take a career placement test in a Social Studies class. I tried really hard to make my test come out to look like I should be a veterinarian. When my teacher pulled me aside, she said, ‘I don’t think these results are going to make you happy. I know you want to be a veterinarian, but you almost scored a 95% for teaching. Maybe you should rethink the veterinarian thing.’ So, I talked to my parents and told them and they began to encourage me. My senior year of high school, I started doing some volunteer work at Berryton with some of my former teachers through a club at Shawnee Heights, Students Action for Education, and that was really when I knew that the career test was correct. I absolutely loved being with those students and even the teachers.”

Mary remembers Cassie's dad as being one of the cool teachers and anyone who wanted to be a teacher wanted to be like him, including his own daughter. “I saw how inspiring he was to so many students and the players he coached and I wanted to be just like him,” said Cassie.

Mary and Cassie were not surprised when the other was named a teacher of the year. “Cassie gets to know her students on a personal level,” said Mary. “I also know that she coordinates with people all over the high school to make sure that her students and their teachers are getting what they need based on their plans. This speaks to her ability to be able to collaborate with her teammates at the high school. She has made an impact on many lives in the Seaman community because of her commitment to her position and her passion for education.”

“Mary always has a smile on her face and is kind to everyone,” said Cassie. “It does not surprise me that she is an outstanding teacher. I can see the kids loving her because she is a genuine person and kids know she cares. Mary is the type of person that will do everything she can to help students and colleagues be successful.”

Importance of Friendship with Colleagues
Relationships between coworkers are so important when it comes to a positive and productive work environment. Having friends at work can make jobs more enjoyable, alleviate stress, and improve job satisfaction. A sense of belonging and camaraderie with colleagues reminds us that we’re all on the same team and working towards the same mission of preparing each student for lifelong success. Even when employees are in different buildings, like Mary and Cassie, friendships and strong connections are important.

“Building relationships with the people I work with is imperative to me,” said Mary. “They are my family, my people. It is a true gift to get to work with people who support you and encourage you to stretch yourself. It’s good to have people who know your human side, and let you see their human side, too. People working in education at any level know that having a group of people they can count on is one of the most important tools they can have to help each other and students.”

Cassie shared similar sentiments, “I feel like Seaman High School is part of my family. I have been here for almost 28 years and I can’t imagine my life without them. From day one, I have felt a part of this family, and that is because we not only work together, we do things outside of school where we also know each other’s families. Being able to teach with some of your best friends is pretty amazing. We work well as a team and only want what is best for our students. Whether it be celebrations or tragedies, our staff is there for each other and I feel so fortunate that this is where my teaching journey began.”

Recently, teachers took a survey that measured different aspects of teacher engagement and retention efforts. 93% percent of USD 345 teachers who took the survey said that they feel they have someone at work who seems to care about me as a person. Continuing to build coworker support systems and bonds is important work for the district as another way to keep job satisfaction high.

“The people of this district have kept me learning and growing as a teacher for 24 years,” said Mary. “I learned so much from my colleagues in my early years with the district. They guided me, coached me, encouraged me to become involved within the district, and challenged my thinking and viewpoints. Now that I’m in that season of getting to be a teacher that gets to pay it forward to the next generation, I hope that I can be a staff member that they can come to for even the smallest of questions or concerns.”

The district will continue to celebrate Mary and Cassie as they continue their pursuit of the Kansas Teacher of the Year.