Cara Heitz

Teacher of the Year 2012 - Alaska


Every single interaction with a student has meaning.

As educators we collectively need to realize how influential we can be in a child’s life. So many of us recall both an inspiring teacher from our past as well as one that left an indelible scar. None of us got into this profession to be the latter. We will often never know as educators what impacts we have had on a student. We need to always remember to be the safe, positive light in their day, to encourage, guide, and inspire.


To be sustainable, teachers need positive peer support.

We are tasked with myriad duties and often feel overworked and under supported. It is easy to acquire a cynical perspective and slip into mediocrity. We need to be there for our colleagues as reminders of why we chose this amazing profession. We are as much as an inspiration to each other as we can be for our students. Camaraderie sparks personal and professional improvement, growth, and innovation and breeds hope.


All parents want the very best for their kids.

As I have learned this, it has helped me better understand my students and how to be their guide.Teachers and parents often take on an “us vs. them” mentality. This perspective stifles growth because it leaves the responsibility for success in someone else’s hands, when in reality a student’s success as a learner and an individual is all of our responsibilities.  Parents are an integral part of our success as a teacher. We must be effective collaborators with not only each other, but also our students and their parents.


Be a passionately curious role model.

My greatest contribution to education over the past twelve years is that I maintain a love of learning and a love of science that becomes infectious to my students. I share with them when I learn something new and exciting and I encourage them to teach me as much as I teach them. I want my students to realize that learning can be both enlightening and thrilling, and that science is an important and relevant aspect of their life, past, present and future. I want my students to develop the skill of questioning, provoking, and challenging all things presented to them, in order to seek the truth about the world and not be subject to ignorance. They may never remember exactly “what” I taught them, but I think they will always remember “how” I taught them and how I demonstrated how enjoyable learning can be.


We all must be on a continuous plan of improvement.

Albert Shanker stated back in 1985, “We don’t have the right to be called professionals—and we will never convince the public that we are—unless we are prepared to decide what constitutes competence in our profession and what constitutes incompetence and apply those definitions to ourselves and our colleagues.”  How can we demonstrate our competence? We need to be analytical and reflective, continually working to improve our teaching skills, refining and adjusting instructional practices to increase understanding and reach every student. You would probably never think of sending your child to a physician who has not kept up on the newest information and most effective procedures and treatments over the tenure of her career. Let us not fail the children in our classrooms the same way. Let us be the role models for students as life-long learners.  Let it be that when the public thinks of teachers they envision the consummate professional.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Cara’s vision as a future physician was to help heal the sick and educate the healthy. However, fourteen years ago she unknowingly assisted a student to develop an enthusiasm for lifelong learning and her vision changed. She embarked on a journey to become a teacher of learning through science and she has never looked back. She is now in her 12th year and has come full circle, teaching Advanced Health Care Practices to juniors and seniors at Martin Luther King, Jr. Career Center in Anchorage School District.

Originally from Rochester, New York, Cara received her B.A. in Zoology from Miami University of Ohio in 1995. She went on to attend MCP/Hahnemann School of Medicine and completed all the coursework for her Medical Doctorate before leaving in 1998 to pursue a career in teaching. In 2001, Cara received her Teacher Licensure from Colorado State University and began her teaching career. She taught high school science in Fort Collins, Colorado for three years before making her big move to Alaska.

In 2004, Cara moved to the remote Yu’pik Eskimo villages of Southwest Region, Alaska and over a two-year period, she taught in 3 different villages. In 2006, she and her husband moved to Cordova, Alaska, and bought their first home. She taught a wide variety of science classes to the 7th-12th grade students at Cordova Jr./Sr. High School for six years. It was in Cordova that Cara was nominated to be Teacher of the Year by her Superintendent in part due to her energy, knowledge and enthusiasm for science. She serves as a role model for young women, empowering them to engage, explore and excel in the sciences.