Maneuvering through the hallways of Flathead High School on the last day of classes before Christmas break, business teacher Caitlin Heuscher is greeted by a chorus of students and staff bidding her “Hello” and “Congratulations.” Heuscher is peppy and enthusiastic. She is a clear favorite of students, who pop in and out of her classroom to catch up and receive encouragement. Her classroom walls are plastered with graduation photos of former students, inspiring quotes and remnants of old lesson plans and projects.
“The kids, man,” Heuscher said. “The kids are so awesome. I provide the space, and what they create in there is theirs.”
The Kalispell Education Foundation on Dec. 19 presented Heuscher with its annual “High School Educator of the Year” award, an honor that recognizes excellence in education in the Kalispell Public Schools. The foundation’s student board selected Heuscher after reviewing 480 anonymous submissions from students, parents and community members across Flathead High School, Glacier High School and the Linderman Education Center.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to honor Caitlin Heuscher. She leads by example through hard work and dedication, inspiring her students to become the future leaders our community needs. Beyond that, she has such a kind heart. From the many nominations she received, it was very clear her students value all of these qualities and were eager to express their gratitude,” Kalispell Education Foundation Executive Director Dorothy Drury said.
Heuscher grew up in Billings before moving to Bozeman to study business and marketing at Montana State University. After relocating to the Flathead, Heuscher took a job as an assistant buyer at Sportsman & Ski Haus, putting her background in business to use. On the side, she coached the Flathead High School cheerleading team.
In her role as a cheerleading coach, Heuscher said she “just realized how awesome high school kids are.” She went back to school to get her teaching degree and began her career as a business teacher at Flathead High School in 2013.
Heuscher teaches a range of business-related classes that draw students from all walks of Flathead High School. This year, her courses include marketing; school-based enterprise, which functions in conjunction with the high school’s student-run coffee shop; and Foundations of Leadership, an extension of the high school’s Brave Mentoring Program.
“They are from all different activities within the school,” Heuscher said of her Foundations of Leadership class. “We get kids that are really into speech and debate, some that are into our science clubs and others that are three sport athletes. It’s one of my favorite classes. They just work so well together. It’s fun to see.”
Heuscher is also the advisor for Flathead High School’s chapter of DECA, a nationwide business and entrepreneurship club that teaches academic and leadership skills to high school students. DECA students compete in various events during statewide and national business competitions.
Flathead High School has boasted the largest DECA chapter in the state for the last three years, due in large part to Heuscher’s leadership. Thirty-seven Flathead students made it to the DECA national conference in Atlanta last spring. This year, Heuscher will bring 127 students to the state conference in Missoula.
In “Educator of the Year” nominations, students lauded Heuscher’s warmth, empathy and encouragement, describing her as an advocate for their needs and a facilitator of a constructive classroom environment.
“After 13 years of school and countless teachers, I’ve never [met] a teacher quite like Mrs. Heuscher,” one anonymous nomination read. “… Although Mrs. Heuscher gives all the credit to her exec mentor students, the program could truly not exist without her. The countless hours, effort, and care she [puts] into the students at Flathead, which is often overlooked, is completely awe-inspiring … She is what a teacher should be.”
“I am in her Foundations of Leadership class as an executive mentor and I always have felt like my voice matters,” another nomination read. “Just with me she has had important discussions about my minor conflicts in class as well as how I can grow in my leadership and personally. I have always felt as though she was talking with me and not to me.”
For Heuscher, her success as a teacher can be credited to the administrators, staff and students who make up Flathead High School and the mentorship she has received since she began teaching 10 years ago.
“It was so overwhelming, honestly, and truly unexpected,” Heuscher said of being awarded “Educator of the Year.” “It’s so crazy to me. I don’t feel like it’s something that I do. It’s my students. It’s the people that I’m so blessed to work with that have mentored me.”
The award comes with a $1,000 grant for Heuscher’s classroom, sponsored by Stockman Bank. Heuscher hopes to pour the funds back into the Brave Mentoring Program. The dream, she said, would be to bring in engaging activities for her student mentors that help them to become better leaders.
Amid the excitement of the award and the final days of school for the calendar year, Heuscher’s overwhelming attitude is one of gratitude. She is thankful for her coworkers, the Kalispell Education Foundation and Stockman Bank. She is grateful, too, for the students who keep her coming back to school every day.
“I think that’s why it’s so crazy to me. When my name got called, I was like, ‘What?’ It’s them. It’s the people I work with. It’s my administration. It’s just all of that.”
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