By Amy Howe
If your family had a daycare in your home growing up, it is likely you might have taken an interest in teaching school. That’s how it all started for Elizabeth Merrell. She would come home from school each day and set up makeshift desks to teach the daycare children. “I loved learning and I wanted to help everyone in my life learn, as well,” she said. “Ultimately, I decided for certain I was going to be a teacher when I was in the second grade. I can’t remember exactly what made me so certain, and maybe it was because in that grade I was becoming a better writer, but I wrote often that year about being a teacher when I grew up. I never changed my mind. I tutored throughout school and lots of babysitting, always looking for opportunities to connect with kids.”
Elizabeth grew up in Parsons, Kansas, where she attended school and then on to Pittsburg State University to obtain her Bachelor of Science in elementary education. She continued on and obtained her master’s in educational technology online through William Woods University, something she takes a lot of pride in receiving as she worked late nights from home with three young children while continuing to teach. “It was a hefty amount of work,” said Elizabeth. “I am grateful to have the extra knowledge and tools I gained, as I know it has impacted my teaching in a positive and powerful way.”
After 19 years of teaching kindergarten, Elizabeth is taking a big leap and will teach first grade for the first time next year. “I will keep my class and we will move into first grade together,” she said. “I am beyond excited. I have always struggled saying goodbye at the end of a school year and letting go of my students.” While this is out of her comfort zone, she is excited to try something new. “The exciting thing about this is already knowing my kids so well,” she said. “We have such a bond, and we will just continue growing together. I will start with a new kindergarten class the following year and follow them into first grade as well, hence the term ‘looping,’ staying with a class two years and looping back around to start again.”
As this year’s Elementary Teacher of the Year and Teacher Impact Award recipient, Elizabeth loves the connections she makes with her students and enjoys seeing pride in their faces when they are learning. “I love making them feel happy and loved,” she said. “I love seeing them succeed and create dreams for themselves. I think most of all, I love feeling like I can make a positive impact on their lives.” It’s Elizabeth’s biggest hope that each of her students believes in their own abilities and themselves.
A couple of things you may not know about Elizabeth is she taught all of her own children in kindergarten. “I always felt a little extra pride each of those years being able to treat them as every other student in my room,” said Elizabeth. “I make sure I show every single student so much love that they feel as close to me as my own children.” Elizabeth also has dreams of becoming a writer someday. She has a love of children’s books and feels she has many stories dancing around in her head that she hopes to someday get the opportunity to put them down in writing.
Elizabeth makes it her goal on a daily basis to make learning fun, something her students have taught her. “I love letting them lead me, by finding things I know they enjoy to add to my teaching,” she said.
“I make sure they feel heard.”
Outside of teaching, Elizabeth enjoys spending time with her four children. She also enjoys hiking and going on walks with her family.