Priscilla Baird is celebrating her recent nomination and award as Teacher of the Year selected by North Phoenix Family magazine from several submitted teacher nominations. There are thousands of educators, but it takes a truly unique and qualified character to be nominated for Teacher of the Year. It takes passion, commitment, strength, dedication and a supportive community to rally for that kind of success.
“I am honored and feel blessed. I didn’t even know I was nominated,” said Priscilla. “In fact, I just retired this year! I was told there were a few other good candidates for the award, but I had won. It was the parents of my students that came forward to nominate me.”
Priscilla has been a kindergarten teacher for 30 years and has worked at Lookout Mountain Elementary School in the Washington School District for the past twenty years.
“I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a teacher. I think I always knew from a very young age that I wanted to teach,” Priscilla recalled.
There was never a doubt that kindergarten was the only level she wanted to teach. For thirty years, that has been her focus in her career. She was always babysitting while growing up and loved being around children. She also grew up with many role models who inspired her to follow in their footsteps down the path of education.
“I would help one of my friends, a 1st grade teacher, with room preparations during the summers before school. I also babysat for one of my mentors, Zita. I would travel with her family to watch her kids and I’d spend holidays with them; I became part of their family.”
Priscilla received her Bachelor’s degree in education at Arizona State University. She married in her third year of college and worked her way through school at a cousin’s insurance agency while also interning and student teaching. After graduating from ASU, she interviewed for her first teaching job and got it immediately.
“I started at Sunnyslope Elementary School. I remember I went home crying many days thinking I wasn’t good at it,” Priscilla shared. “But my students taught me more than I could imagine. They made me the teacher that I am today. I also had many great teachers and mentors who helped me improve along the journey. I loved it there and I really felt that I was making a difference.”
There were many students at Sunnyslope that sometimes arrived hungry. Priscilla helped advocate to get food for them to eat breakfast and lunch when they came to school. The staff also helped the students purchase backpacks and supplies and tried to get gifts for the students on holidays.
“I functioned not only as teacher, but as their nurse, social worker and counselor. I also was blessed to have my two daughters while teaching and going to school for my Master’s all at the same time. I don’t know how I did it,” said Priscilla.
Ten years, two pregnancies and a Master’s degree later, Priscilla’s oldest daughter was ready to start kindergarten and Priscilla wanted her friend at Lookout Mountain Elementary to be her teacher.
“I wasn’t looking to change schools, but a kindergarten position opened up at Lookout Mountain and my daughter was getting ready to start kindergarten; it just made sense to make the move.”
Priscilla loved her new school. The students were always prepared, their parents always volunteered, and she received such appreciation from the families and community. Both schools proved instrumental in helping Priscilla succeed as a teacher.
“I have been able to help so many students,” she said. “I really won over the community with a good reputation. The hardest thing about retiring is missing the students’ progression. I loved watching them grow and being there to see them move forward.”
As a gift to celebrate her retirement, her latest class gave her a special gift. It was a box filled with 900 silver and gold hearts to represent the 900 plus students Priscilla had taught over her thirty years.
“All those students are out there somewhere. My first class of students is probably 35 years old now,” Priscilla exclaimed. “I love teaching. It’s my passion. It’s a very rewarding feeling and the best job I could have ever dreamed of. The kids keep me happy, young and vibrant. I’m there for them but they give me an awful lot in return. I say I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but my two daughters are my life and my oldest daughter is now married and pregnant and that will keep me plenty busy. My youngest is now pursuing her degree, so you never know. I may teach again!”
Written by: Rebecca Zaner
Rebecca Zaner has written many stories throughout the valley and enjoys having the ability to share community news, journeys and achievements. Holding a Bachelor of Music, Rebecca’s favorite place to be is the stage. Having been a singer all her life, Rebecca is now in pursuit of a professional performing career, singing opera and musical theatre (rebeccazaner.com). Also an avid photographer, Rebecca owns a photography business, Rebecca Kaye Photography (rebeccakayephoto.wix.com/rebeccakaye). She enjoys the natural beauty of Arizona and can be found spending her free time exploring and traveling with her family.