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2018 ARKANSAS TEACHER OF THE YEAR

A Fort Smith teacher is a regional finalist for the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

Natasha Shoate just began her ninth year of teaching third-grade at Cavanaugh Elementary School.

“I think when I first started, I was trying to control the learning,” she said.

Now, the students are in control of their learning.

“They take responsibility and ownership,” she said. “I think that’s where I’ve matured the most — giving kids more freedom and more choices.”

Shoate said that the increased use of technology, such as allowing students take Chromebooks home with them, helps keep them engaged and gives more opportunities to customize their learning.

Cavanaugh Principal Hank Needham nominated Shoate for the Teacher of the Year Award.

“She makes the school a better place with her mere positivity,” he said.

Shoate comes to school each day upbeat and ready to teach and leaves her personal life at home, he said.

“She takes the time to tutor kids after school on her own time,” Needham said, adding that Shoate started math groups for kids who were struggling.

Needham added that Shoate is a young teacher who already has a master’s degree under her belt and is nationally board-certified.

Shoate wanted to be a teacher since she was a kid, she said. She would make her younger sister sit and do math problems.

“I also had a strong support system at home, but I had excellent examples of teachers,” she said.

Teachers who had the most impact on her with whom she still keeps in touch were the ones who built relationships. That’s what she strives to do with her students whether that means playing with Legos with a student during her lunchbreak, going to Boys and Girls Club basketball games or coaching a team.

Some kids require a little more attention and acknowledgement if they’re not getting that at home, she said. Sometimes, she’ll leave a student a note that tells them they’ve done a good job.

“What you think is little is big to them,” she said.

The Arkansas State Teacher of the Year is chosen by the Arkansas Department of Education. He or she receives a year of paid administrative leave and spends the year traveling around the state for professional development and serves as a non-voting member on the State Board of Education. 

Last year, Van Buren High School teacher Courtney Cochran won the award.

Shoate eventually wants to be a college professor and teach other aspiring teachers. Because Cavanaugh is the only school where she has taught, it will be interesting to visit other schools throughout the state and see how they do things similarly or differently, she said.

Four regional finalist will be named state semi-finalists for Teacher of the Year on Aug. 30.