After college, Lizzie Vansant decided to dabble in education and accepted a position as a special education aide and fell in love not only with the position, but also the opportunity to serve students and families. She went on to pursue her master’s degree in collaborative education from UAB and shortly after graduation, she became special education teacher. She moved to Shelby County Schools in 2021 as a literacy coach. In 2023, the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce named her the 2023 Elementary Educator of the Year. Here, she offers her thoughts and appreciation upon winning this award.

How did it feel to win the Shelby County Chamber’s Educator of the Year award?

Gratitude, grace, recognition and sincere appreciation. Educators are there to make an impact on student achievement and student growth. There is a section in the book, “Maybe,” by Kobi Yamada that beautifully sums up my thoughts on teaching. It states, “At times it will feel really hard. And you might make a mess of things. You may fall down. You may fail. But you will also get back up, and you will rise a little stronger and a little taller. Because there really is more inside you than you know. And this world needs your gifts, your talents, your big ideas.” Throughout my teaching career, I have been both intimidated and motivated by failure. Little did I know that this would be the greatest gift I could have been given because it forced me into the mindset of problem-solving early on.

How long have you been teaching, and what would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

This is my 13th year in education. The most rewarding aspect of my job is the opportunity to be a part of an “A-ha” moment with a colleague or a student. Every single person in our building has varied life experiences, learns differently and progresses at a different rate. Regardless, each of them will push their limits to go further, achieve higher goals and even grow as a person. When you are able to witness a colleague or student unlock their own potential, it makes teaching all the more rewarding.

Why did you choose to go into education, and why do you choose to stay in the profession?

I began my career in education in my mom’s classroom. She worked tirelessly to provide for her students, and I admired the time, effort and grace that she poured into each day. My mom is now retired, but she continues to set it for my own kids. Every conversation she has with them is a teachable moment, and that spark, that love of learning and love of teaching, is just innate.

What advice do you have for other aspiring educators?

To say to aspiring educators that we need you is an understatement. Your perspective and insight matters. In the field of education, there are everyday challenges and struggles. Our future educators provide a fresh angle that will keep our field moving forward. My challenge to aspiring educators is to clearly define your passion for your work each and every day. By understanding your “why” and keeping that at the forefront of your daily interactions, you will be unstoppable.

What has been your favorite memory as an educator thus far?

The highlight of my journey as an educator has been watching my very first group of students graduate high school (and now college). When they came back to their elementary school and walked the halls, I was a big, sobbing mess. We often forget that our students continue to navigate paths way beyond our classroom walls. As they continue on their life journeys, they never forget about the simple, everyday conversations and lessons that we take the time to have with them. It is always an honor to be a small part of a family’s journey and when you see a child sprout and bloom, it’s even more rewarding. We owe it to our students and colleagues to make the small moments count.