TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Heather Burgess Kealhofer believes teaching changes lives

Published 2:09 pm Thursday, January 25, 2024

Heather Burgess Kealhofer is a teacher at Vicksburg Intermediate School. She has been teaching for 11 years.

Kealhofer is a finalist for the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce’s Educator of the Year. The Chamber will select and announce one elementary and one secondary teacher of the year at the Chamber Luncheon in February. The winner of each award will receive $1,000 from Ameristar Casino and the runner-ups for each award will receive $500 from Mutual Credit Union.

When asked how she engages students in learning, she said, “I build off what they already know. Then, I find a lesson that applies to real life, like the rate/price lesson. They love the portion of the lesson where they determine the best price of chicken nuggets. I also challenge them to take what they have learned in this lesson with them to the grocery store and make sure they are getting the best deal on what they are buying. This lesson always keeps students engaged and they are eager to learn because it applies to their daily life.”

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When Kealhofer introduces a new skill to her class, she establishes a connection with a real-world situation. This provides a framework for students to better understand new information and maximizes student learning. Kealhofer says she always discusses money with her students, from hourly job rates to interest rates for buying a home or a car. Money always seems to pique students’ interest because they can see its real-life uses, she said.

“I always get tickled when we talk about money in class. Everyone finds their voice and wants to share.”

When asked what measures she incorporates to improve student achievement, Kealhofer said she introduces her students to K.A.S.E.  K.A.S.E. is a problem-solving strategy that applies to word problems in math.

“This strategy enables students to focus on the most important information given, leading to a more disciplined way to solve a word problem,” explained Kealhofer.

She also said she uses small groups to target learning deficits and provide students with materials that reflect their different levels and styles of learning.

“These measures have proven to be effective and have allowed me to not only meet, but exceed my yearly benchmark and state testing goals.”

Kealhofer tells of her most moving educational experiences with the story of a student who was getting SPED assistance for math, but who has excelled, bridging her learning deficit through hard work and determination. She does not have an ideal home life, explained Kealhofer, so she tells me all the time how  much she dislikes the weekends because her happy place is school.

“I see big things in this young lady’s future,” Keolhofer said. “The relationships and successes are so rewarding and are the reason (I teach).”