Katie Burgess, an alumna of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith class of 2017, has earned recognition as one of the top 20 novice teachers in the state of Oklahoma by the Teaching & Leading Initiative of Oklahoma (TLI).

Burgess teaches 10th grade English and is an assistant coach for varsity and junior high cheer at McAlester (Okla.) Public Schools.

She graduated from UAFS magna cum laude after an impressive undergraduate career that included positions with the Student Government Association and Delta Gamma fraternity. She was honored as New Member of the Year for UAFS Greek Life in 2015 and was crowned Miss UAFS in 2016, which allowed her to travel the region in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Burgess went on to earn the interview and arrival awards at the Miss America Organization’s Miss Arkansas competition. 

“I am immensely grateful for what I gained as a student at UAFS. I genuinely believe what I learned from my media communication degree helped me transition into the education field with confidence. UAFS provided me with many opportunities to learn how to make community connections that allowed me to continue to flourish after graduation. I am proud to call myself an alumna.”

Officially titled “The 20 Under 2” list, the award is the first of its kind from the TLI organization and is aimed at honoring promising new Oklahoma teachers and celebrating emerging leaders and high performers who make Oklahoma’s future bright. 

Burgess dedicates her time in the classroom as much to fostering deep connections with her students as she does to providing quality education. “It is my biggest priority to build rapport and strong relationships within my classroom walls,” Burgess said. 

“It is a rare thing to see a brand-new teacher embracing their power with such eagerness, confidence, and maturity,” said Principal Stephanie Holt. “Katie Burgess has a heart for young people and a desire to inspire and challenge them to be mindful, smart, capable and responsible for the talents and potential inside them all. She uses innovative practices in her classroom and builds strong relationships with students that empower and elevate them to know more, be more and do more.”

Burgess’ students say her most meaningful strength is being relatable, adding that she consistently communicates well and works to establish relationships with them.

“Developing a passion for teaching and for building meaningful relationships with K-12 students are two of the most important ingredients for continued commitment to teaching,” explained Dr. Monica Riley, interim executive director of the UAFS School of Education. “UAFS graduates understand the importance of being a reflective practitioner to continually grow as an educator.”

Principals, veteran teachers and district leaders throughout Oklahoma submitted their top novice teachers for consideration. Each nomination was reviewed and scored by a panel of education professionals to choose the top 20. Those honored represent outstanding classroom culture, academic results and contributions to Oklahoma’s public schools.

“It’s essential to celebrate outstanding novice teachers, especially in the midst of Oklahoma’s worrisome teacher shortage,” said TLI Executive Director Jo Lein. “It’s exciting to honor some of the bright, accomplished novice teachers in our state. We want to encourage excellent novice teachers to stay in the profession and brighten the future for Oklahoma children.”  

Burgess said she is deeply grateful to her supportive colleagues and administration for guiding her through her first year in the classroom.

This year alone  3,032 emergency teaching certifications were awarded in Oklahoma. One out of every five new teachers in the state leaves the profession after his or her first year. After five years only about half remain in an Oklahoma classroom.

Addressing the critical teaching shortage in the region and preparing teachers who are committed to the profession is of utmost importance to the School of Education at UAFS. Students in the education field at UAFS are prepared to succeed as teachers and are given the tools and insight to persist, as well.


Rachel Rodemann Putman, Interim Communications Director
Photo Credits: 
Rachel Rodemann Putman
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
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