Erin Norton always wanted to be a teacher. His mother, aunt and sister-in-law were all teachers.
When she was just a girl, her mother helped with the after-school choir at First Baptist Church in Louisville, and Norton helped her with the younger children.
“That’s when I realized I loved helping kids,” she says. “I never really had anything else in mind.”
She graduated from college in 2014 and immediately started teaching. She had been there for about six years when the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Teachers around the world, those with long experience and those just starting out, were in the same boat trying to find new ways to keep children forced out of traditional classrooms from falling behind.
Tina Ethridge, principal of Louisville Academy, said Norton, who now teaches fourth grade, has stepped up and become a leader in not only helping find ways to implement technology to serve students at the both in the classroom and at home, but she has also led sessions to help other teachers embrace technology.
“She’s very innovative,” Etheridge said. “She always goes out of her way to find new ways of doing things. She is one of those teachers who is always trying to find creative ways to get things across to her kids and make everything engaging and interactive for the kids.
Etheridge said it’s Norton’s effectiveness in the classroom and the help she provides to other teachers that led to her being named Jefferson County’s Teacher of the Year.
“She was instrumental in guiding them through the learning process of virtual teaching and getting them comfortable with it,” Ethridge said. “We had K-5 teachers virtually teaching kids at home and kids at school at the same time using headsets and walking around their classrooms, monitoring both groups of students at the same time.
Even with the pandemic, Norton said what she does every day remains as fulfilling as she had hoped, even as the challenges change.
The pandemic has forced teachers to learn new skills, but she sees an impact that the first year has had on students.
“Some were affected socially, some academically, and some both,” Erin said. “We take care of all that.”
Many students lost all social expectations of being in groups of other children when they spent most of the year learning at home. And while schools were providing laptops, packages and virtual learning options, some students were having problems with internet availability.
“We did everything we could, but it wasn’t the same as being in class,” she said. “But we learned a lot and now that we’re back full time, we’re using technology more and we know how to integrate it as a learning tool with everything we did before.”
Using the new technology is easy for her, she said. She also understands that it is not necessarily easy for everyone. She always receives calls from other classes because her fellow teachers need help with this program or application.
“I really admire his willingness to think outside the box sometimes and try new things,” Ethridge said. “Kids love her. Parents love her. She’s very structured and she’s serious and she wants her kids to learn. She was the only class where all of her kids tuned into her live sessions every day.
Norton said that through all the changes, the basics of what it means to be a teacher have remained the same.
Whether providing content, teaching every single child in a classroom, setting aside time after school for one-on-one attention, building relationships with students, and using these relationships to make the most of them, teaching during the pandemic is still teaching.
Norton said she was moved when her fellow teachers voted her the school’s teacher of the year and felt supported when she was chosen to represent the county. She referenced a Ted Talk by professional educator Rita Pierson.
“My favorite quote is, ‘Every student needs a champion,'” Norton said. “And I want to be that champion for them. I want to be able to build those relationships and know that the kids who give you the most trouble need love the most. They need to know that someone is behind them, pushing them to perform at their best.