Kaitlyn Festa gets hugs almost every day from current and former students at Elizabeth Scott Elementary, which she called the “best feeling.”
Festa gets to see her students even after they move up to higher grades and said they return to give her hugs.
“My kids know that it’s always safe to get hugs, and even my past kids are like, ‘We need our hug today,’” Festa said. “I had a parent … [at] math and reading night and [she] was like ‘My girls get to hug you every morning but I haven’t had a hug in forever,’ and I said ‘Well, come on.’”
Teaching runs in her family. When she was in elementary school, Festa said she “taught” her dolls. After taking a class in high school that allowed her to volunteer in an elementary school, she worked tirelessly with a student who struggled with math, and she was elated when the proverbial light bulb finally went off.
“I was like, ‘This is the feeling that I want for the rest of my life,’” Festa said. “It was so cool to see it finally click for him, and that definitely solidified the fact that I wanted to teach.”
Festa has been teaching for 11 years at Elizabeth Scott. She has thought about trying second grade, but loves the flexibility of first grade.
She was named “Teacher of the Year” for the 2019-2020 school year.
Festa’s goal is to make her students feel loved, safe and supported every day.
She said it is important that students want to come to school and understand that it’s OK to make mistakes, learn how to have grit and determination, be a good friend, and work cooperatively.
“I think my goal is to just teach the whole child; it’s not just about academics. It’s about the kid and making [him or her] successful in every way possible,” Festa said. “So I think that’s a goal you work on every single day, and it never stops because it’s all about the kids and making sure that they’re growing.”
She called teaching the best job ever.
“Yesterday, it was snowing, and [one boy’s attitude was:] ‘I hope we have to come to school tomorrow,’ which is the opposite of what you think of,” Festa said.
On the days where she wants to stay in bed or isn’t in a good mood, Festa credited her students with reminding her why she’s a teacher.
“They remind me that my attitude affects everything about their day, and so it’s really important to me to step back and say, ‘OK, put a smile on your face,’” Festa said. “And even if you fake it in the morning, 20 minutes later it’s usually genuine because they make it easy to enjoy the little moments.”