November 16, 2017

Iowa Teacher of the Year: Aileen Sullivan

Aileen Sullivan, a veteran chemistry teacher at Ames High, was named the 2018 Iowa Teacher of the Year by Governor Kim Reynolds at a surprise event that was also attended by Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise.

Sullivan has taught at Ames High School since 1996 and is known for challenging her students, her colleagues, and herself to grow and improve. Superintendent Dr. Tim Taylor hired Sullivan in 1996 and dubbed her a “kid magnet.” She has “that hidden ability to understand and relate to young people that draws them in and allows her to push them to their potential.”

Sullivan, along with her husband Joel Sullivan, who nominated Aileen and is also a teacher at Ames High, found out that she was selected as the Teacher of the Year two months prior to the event and was embargoed from discussing it. “When I nominated her, my goal was for her to get the recognition she deserves as a teacher and leader in our district. None of what she does is very public and few people realize how hard she works and how dedicated she is to improving her craft and helping students.”

When the call came that she was named Teacher of the Year, Sullivan said, “When I found out, I was quite shocked. I also know there are so many other teachers so deserving of this recognition. I am humbled by this spotlight on me because teaching is about my students, not about me.”

Beyond teaching, Aileen also serves as the chief negotiator for the Ames Education Association in the District. She has served on the negotiations team for over 20 years and has been the chief negotiator for more than 15 years. Dr. Taylor said, “Because of her understanding of the tough financial times we have experienced over the past decade and her problem-solving skills, she has been instrumental in keeping this school system financially sound, saved many jobs, and helped us maintain both curricular and co-curricular student programs to keep us as the #1 school district in the state and #1 high school in Iowa.”

Since graduating of the University of Northern Iowa, Ames has been her only teaching job and she has identified that her approach to classroom teaching has shifted over the years and now strives to put students in charge of their learning. Early in career as a novice teacher, Sullivan admits she was very traditional in her teaching. She would stand in front of the class and make heavy use of the white board. “Then one day, it dawned on me. I was standing at my white board, providing notes for my students like I was a pro. I knew exactly where this chemistry lesson was going, but my students did not. I was only serving as a gatekeeper for information for my students, and they were passive partakers of what I had to give.” Today, the control in her classroom has shifted so that the students are active creators of understanding. “Students are always in control of what they learn and teaching needs to be a constant endeavor to allow students to do their own thinking.” Today, Sullivan finds satisfaction when she realizes the moment that students “get it” and the proverbial “light bulb” goes on.

As 2018 Teacher of the Year, Sullivan will be tasked with being a representative for the state of Iowa. It is likely that her next year will change significantly, but her family understands the role that she will play across the state. Her husband Joel said “We have talked many times since this all started that this is life-changing. She is embracing this challenge and is very humbled to receive the honor.” Ames High Principal Spence Evans added, “Aileen has the skill set to do whatever she wants in education, and we are very lucky that what she has chosen to do is teach the students of the Ames community. I know that our Ames High family could not be any more proud that she will represent our state as the Teacher of the Year.”