Karen Van Lake, Tavan Elementary

Nominated by Galen Tivis

How long have you been teaching at Tavan?

I have been teaching here for 12 years. I have not taught anywhere else; I love Tavan and plan on continuing for many years.

Where did you grow up and when did you move to Arizona?

I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I moved here in 1994 when I was pregnant with my eldest son.

What grade do you teach? Have you taught any other grades?

I currently teach fifth grade, but I first taught second grade at Tavan. After two years, my principal at the time asked if I would move to fifth grade. I accepted the offer and have enjoyed working with this age group. It’s a great fit for me.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I enjoy the innocence of a child and knowing that what I do and say can impact a child’s future. I like knowing that I can make a difference in their lives.

I find it extremely gratifying when I am teaching and I hear a child’s voice saying, “Oh, I get it!”

What is your class learning right now?

This year, I am teaching fifth grade math. Currently, we are learning how to solve word problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of fractions.

What are some unique teaching techniques you use?

I like to encourage my students to work in pairs or in groups of four. I believe students are more engaged when they can talk to each other about the concepts I am teaching and work together to solve the problems.

What is your teaching philosophy?

Building meaningful and respectful relationships with my students helps to encourage the learning process.

How do you connect your lessons to the real world?

Since I am teaching math, we talk a lot about money. My students like that!

How do you motivate your students?

I feel that establishing high expectations and clear goals for my students is important to promote success.