Think Out Loud

Woodburn kindergarten teacher Rosa Floyd named Oregon Teacher of the Year

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB)
Oct. 5, 2022 11:20 p.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, Oct. 6

Rosa Floyd, a bilingual kindergarten teacher at Nellie Muir Elementary School in Woodburn, was named the 2023 Oregon Teacher of the Year at a ceremony held on October 5, 2022.

Rosa Floyd, a bilingual kindergarten teacher at Nellie Muir Elementary School in Woodburn, was named the 2023 Oregon Teacher of the Year at a ceremony held on October 5, 2022.

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On Wednesday, the Oregon Department of Education named Rosa Floyd, a kindergarten teacher at Nellie Muir Elementary School in Woodburn, its 2023 Oregon Teacher of the Year. A native Spanish speaker, Floyd has been teaching bilingual immersion kindergarten in the Woodburn school district for 22 years. She also started and teaches a Mexican folkloric dance group at Nellie Muir for current and former students, their parents and school staff. Rosa Floyd joins us to talk about winning the award and the importance of honoring heritage and culture within the classroom and beyond.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Rosa Floyd was named Oregon’s 2023 Teacher of The Year yesterday. It is an honor given annually by the Oregon Department of Education. Floyd has taught bilingual immersion kindergarten at Nellie Muir Elementary School in the Woodburn School District for 22 years. She also started and still teaches a Mexican folkloric dance group for students, parents and staff. Rosa Floyd joins us to talk about her two decades in the classroom, this honor and more. Rosa Floyd, welcome and congratulations.

Rosa Floyd: Thank you very much.

Miller: My understanding is that you had an earlier career before you became a teacher. You worked as an interior designer in Mexico before you moved to the U.S. Why did you become a teacher when you came here?

Floyd: Yeah, I went to the architecture school in Guadalajara, and then I met my husband there and moved here. And the reason – because I switched careers – I started working in a summer program with migrant students. My husband is a teacher and he was working there. In the meantime, I was able to learn more of the language and be familiar. To go to the architecture area, I needed to take classes and do some assessments.

Miller: Probably listeners are very used to, at this point, whenever we talk to people in schools, there are a ton of announcements that always happen. So that’s what’s happening in the background as you’re talking.

Floyd: Okay, then you want me to start all over again?

Miller: No need to. Keep on going.

Floyd: OK. Then when I went to work with those students in the migrant programs, I realized that they speak Spanish and a lot of teachers, so people, too, can work with the language with them. And that made me rethink my role and my purpose in this country, and I decided that I want to work with my people or people that I can relate to it, because they can live the same struggle that I was living at that time with language, and be familiar with our country and the culture. I thought that that can be my role in the United States, because I was moving to live here to work with the students and help them through those transitions.

Miller: How much did you learn about the lives of your students, at the beginning there, when you were doing this as an instructional assistant at a migrant summer school or high school in Hillsboro? What did you learn about the lives of your students?

Floyd: Well you learn a lot because if a student can talk to you in their own language, immediately you make those connections, not only with the students but with the parents because they’re looking for somebody who can understand them, somebody that can communicate, and guide them through the system. For a lot of parents, it is the initiation with the school for the students, they need somebody to help them to navigate.

Miller: Because some of them hadn’t been to school themselves?

Floyd: Yeah. They came from little towns. They don’t have the experience and that culture is different from the places that they come from. There is a priest, and there is the teacher, and then they helped them a lot too. They work so hard. Then when they come to the United States, everything is new, or a lot of things are new for them. And at that time, when I started working, there weren’t a lot of people from Mexico. Now, it’s very different. Now, we have a minority that is majority in some places. Then, it wasn’t a lot. It was a lot of people who speak Spanish, but they’re unable to work in the school system or in education. That is when I decided to become a teacher. I went back to school to get my degree.

Miller: At the beginning, it seems you were teaching older students, including at a high school in Hillsboro. But you pretty quickly gravitated to kindergarten and that’s where you stayed. Why were you attracted to that youngest age?

Floyd: Well, I think that working, I see myself as a breech between the school and the family’s, right? You don’t introduce only your students, but you introduce your parents. To me, it’s very important that the parents get involved in the student’s education, that they’re going to be successful. The more parents we have participating and working with the students, the better that students are going to do.

And also kindergarten is a very special place. A lot of people said, ‘oh, it’s kindergarten.’ But it’s very transitional. It is the place that they’re going to learn a big percentage of all the knowledge they’re going to have in elementary school. They grow physically, academically, socially. For some kids, it is the first time that they have contact with academic school because they aren’t able to attend preschool. Then it’s a big transition in kindergarten. And now we understand that kids should be prepared, by the time they finish kindergarten, they should be reading and writing. We start … we’re still struggling with that. That is why we need more preschools in our state to help those students to be ready and to be successful. If they like kindergarten – they love – they’re going to like to be at school.

Miller: What do you see broadly as the challenges of this age group of kindergarteners and the joys?

Floyd: Well challenges, I mentioned it, a lot of kids are unable to attend preschool.


Miller: So you have to teach them what it means to be in school in a sense?

Floyd: Exactly. We start from behind, and we have to move them forward to be ready to be readers and writers and be ready to be successful. For the kids that sometimes have a lot of family problems, priority for parents is food on the table, not for everybody. For the kids that are learning another language, because our district is bilingual, kindergarten through high school, then we have a mix of students in the classroom. They’re going to start to learn a new language, right? And they have the gap, since they were born, until starting kindergarten, with the Spanish. Then that is a challenge, but also this is the best age for the students to learn a second language. Most of the countries in the world, they’re trilingual or bilingual. While our kids, they aren’t going to have the opportunity to become as other students. And that is one of the joys that I am able to work with them, with language. When you teach language, you have to teach culture and that is a good way to help them to be successful and learn another language in the classroom. Then it’s both ways, right? Both sides learn from each other. I’m not the only language teacher in the classroom. Then they become a teacher themselves to each other, their models.

Miller: And native English speakers would teach English to their classmates and vice versa.

Floyd: Yes.

Miller: When I asked you why you chose kindergarten, you didn’t start by talking about students, about this developmental period. You started by talking about their parents and how important it is to reach out to them. How do you do that and what kinds of conversations do you have with parents?

Floyd: Well, we have a lot of meetings with parents. We have a lot of trainings. We talk about the importance of the parents to be present, that kids should be in school every day on time, how they can help them at home, because all this information is going to transfer. It doesn’t matter what grade they are. Then all that we prepare the parents to be involved in the school is going to have an impact on all their kids at home. It’s not just in the kindergartens, but it’s going to help everybody.

Miller: How much do you find out? How much do you know about their home lives?

Floyd: Well, I do home visits to all my students through the year. I start going to those kids that I see that they need more help, or they seem quiet in the classroom, or they are absent a lot, or they’re sick very frequently. I go and visit and I want to know my students really well. Then that way I can help them better because if they’re not good emotionally, it’s going to be really hard for them to concentrate, to learn.

Miller: What have you learned in those visits that has helped you to better reach your students?

Floyd: Well, I learn from the parents how much they work, how much time they can spend with the students, how much time they spend at home reading with them. And I learn if they need anything. Like, of course, they always need books, materials, some clothing, some more connections emotionally, if a single parent or not. All those things give me information, and that way I can work better with my students. If I know where their needs are, that helps me a lot in the classroom. And then I can target those needs to able to get them ready to learn academically.

Miller: I mentioned in my intro that in addition to teaching, you’ve also created and led a Mexican folkloric dance group for a while. Can you describe it?

Floyd: Yeah, I’ve been working with this group for 20 years. I started working with a very small group of six students. And I had two parents working with me. Now we have 75 students. I have students from second to third grade, all the middle schools in the district, all the high schools, and now I have students that graduated and they’re in college, but they still participate in the group. We have a group of teachers and parents working together in the group, performing with the students, and also our administrators – the principal and the vice-principal – participate in the dance. For me, the reason I created this group was to bring cultures together. And I want to integrate the parents, to work together for our students, right?

Miller: Why? What is the value of having this be multigenerational?

Floyd: First of all, the parents … the reason I start with the students is because a lot of our students that are from Mexico or descendant. They’re unable to go. They’re never going to be able to go to Mexico. Then they learn about the traditions through their parents or wherever they hear from their families. I want to have the experience to do something related with the culture and be a model for others. My students that are not from Mexico, they’re from here, they have the opportunity to learn about other cultures and have open minds and be ambassadors from our school to go to different places. We perform in other  schools and festivals. We went to the Blazers game to perform. We go back this year. We went to universities.

And then the other reason is, because we are a bilingual district, I want to connect the parents. That the English parents can connect with Hispanic parents and work together for their students and for the teachers. I want the teachers … because we always have the kids to do something for everybody, to perform or put out programs. I want to ask the teachers to perform for students and to show respect to the culture of the students that they teach. And bringing the parents, the parents become teachers for the students, because Hispanic parents are experts in the music and they can perform together and on the same level. And I think this is a big cause of the impact for our students, to see their parents working with the teachers together and performing and being models for them too, then see a parent as a teacher too.

Miller: Can you tell us about the moment yesterday when you found out that you had won this award?

Floyd: It was totally a surprise. I never thought I was going to get this award because there’s so many people that deserve it, deserve to have this. It was a surprise. And I found out because they start talking about teachers’ work, and how much teachers work in the district. And then I saw the people that came and gave me the recognition before in September for the region. And I thought, ‘oh, okay.’ But I can’t believe it. I am still in denial. Then I asked my vice-principal, is that what I’m thinking about? And she started crying and then I turned and looked at my principal and he hugged me and yes. I was very surprised.

Miller: What does this award mean to you?

Floyd: I’m still thinking about it. It is big because it’s not just for me. And I said it yesterday. It’s for everybody who works with students. It’s for all the teachers that work in this district. It’s for all the personnel. And being Latina, coming from Mexico, I think that means something big, right? That is not just for me, but everybody. If I am able to get this, everybody can do it. And I want the students to understand that they can get any place they want to, and that education gives them freedom is what I want them to realize more than anything else. And this is for my students too, not just for me, and for the teachers. It’s for a whole community.

Miller: Rosa Floyd, congratulations again and thank you for joining us. Now I understand, this whole time, the vice-principal has been watching your kids. Now you can get back to your kindergartners. Thank you.

Floyd: And I want to say thank you to my vice-principal and my principal because they nominated me, and without their help this would never happen.

Miller: Rosa Floyd is Oregon’s 2023 Teacher of The Year. She has taught bilingual kindergarten at Nellie Muir Elementary School in Woodburn for the last 22 years.

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