Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award Alumni Spotlight: Caitlin Wales

Since 2001, the Kinder Foundation has honored a handful of Houston’s most distinguished teachers with the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award in recognition of their commitment and innovation. The honors are given at an awards dinner each Fall, where current and past winners share their stories and are shown gratitude by their peers, administrators, and Rich and Nancy Kinder. The Kinder Excellence in Teaching Awards has gifted over $3.7 million to more than 250 teachers since the program was established.

We are proud to begin spotlighting past recipients of this award and sharing what they have been up to since their recognition.

Caitlin Wales

2019 Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award Recipient

YES Prep North Central

12th Grade Level Chair

Econ/Gov Course Facilitator & Instructor

What is your greatest win coming out of 2020?

The greatest win coming out of 2020 would have to be the amazing performance of my students on their December U.S. History EOC despite cramming the entire years’ worth of content into a semester and embracing a teacher new to the content – me! Though I have spent my near ten years in education in the social studies department, a few weeks before school began I was told that with the new block scheduling and quarter system that I would be teaching on-level 11th grade U.S. history, the entire curriculum, in the first semester. On top of that, I was quickly told that yes – it would be a STAAR tested year despite the pandemic. While transitioning to virtual learning and a new content, my students were able to pull off amazing passing rates on the exam, the highest in the district. On top of that, all the students who I had worked with in virtual tutorials (one of the toughest challenges of 2020!) were able to pass the EOC. I am excited to work with the few students who did not pass to get them ready for the retake in May!

What has been occupying your time lately?

The two biggest things that occupy my time lately have been my commitment to creating some semblance of a senior year for our Class of 2021 students, and, arguably my favorite part of my job, coaching our varsity boys soccer team to the district championship. Having taught seniors for the first-time last year, I saw firsthand how abruptly all end of year celebrations and commencements were being cancelled due to the rising pandemic numbers. I made it a goal this year as 12th grade level chair that, alongside the leadership on campus, we would do everything in our power to create a meaningful senior experience for our graduates within the school safety guidelines. This has led to a year of exciting cohort decorating competitions, Food Truck Fridays, and virtual bell ringing for college acceptances. Outside of the classroom and on the field, our school was able to continue to safely participate in the district’s soccer league. It was a strange season for sure, but the guys have managed to head to the district championship taking place at the end of March! It has been a breath of fresh air to have this small sense of normalcy in this year.

How has being an educator impacted or changed your life?

Being an educator allows me to wake up with a purpose every single day. Ten years ago, I would have predicted that my life might look a little different – maybe a family, a house, possibly working in a traditional ISD in the suburbs – and though my life looks nothing like that now, I am incredibly fulfilled through the work I get the chance to do every day. The things that make teaching challenging – the ever-changing demands, the uncertainty of what might go wrong in a lesson that day, the outside elements that kids can carry to school with them – are the things that motivate me to continue to grow. I feel incredibly blessed that I have found a passion that has allowed me to grow as much as I have in my time as a teacher. Having started my first year as a sixth-grade teacher in a 6-12 school, my first batch of kiddos are about to head into their senior year of college. Being able to see this come full circle for the first time and the amount of pride and joy I feel about it tells me that this is exactly where I am meant to be.

We’re curious about the need for student scholarships and would love your perspective. Given you’ve worked with HS seniors, what could be the best use of scholarship money for students entering or persisting through college?

I love this! Many of our students who have the most difficult time persisting are often those who stay local because they don’t always receive scholarships funds not being at the top of the class. I think it could be an interesting idea to offer small scholarships to students who stay more local (UHD, Texas Southern, etc.) to encourage those students who are not eligible for the big awards to still pursue their dreams.