Erin Lenz

Teacher of the Year 2012 - Idaho


Balance is essential!

When life is balanced between our professions, our families, and our personal needs, we are more creative, more energetic, and more effective in what we do. Yet, achieving a state of equilibrium between all aspects of our lives is challenging. Not many are able to reach this goal or if they do, it is hard to sustain. Why I wonder? Is it our innate drive to want more? Is it a lack of satisfaction with what we have...the proverbial “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”? Or, is sustainability disrupted by outside influences that we have no control over? For most of us, it is a combination of all of these factors. I know as an educator today, the struggle to achieve a sense of balance in my profession is quickly diminishing. As public education transforms, teachers are caught in a whirlwind of more expectations and demands within a 19th century system that does not yet support the changes.


It’s all about relationships – not only with our students, but also with our colleagues.

We need to listen, show respect, and build trust with others. It is these connections that create learning environments for all to learn – students and teachers alike. Again and again, I have watched “hard to reach” students strive to do their best because of the relationships built in my classrooms. The respect I show students and the trust they place in me enables them to move forward with their learning instead of staying frozen in place with fear. Value your colleagues! With their advice, support, and encouragement, you will grow and thrive as an educator.


We need to get rid of the perception that classrooms with small bodies equal small amounts of learning.

The reality is Kindergarten and First grade are the years where the foundation is set for all learning to come. I use the word foundation because it is a good analogy. A building collapses when built on a shaky foundation. We learn by building upon the knowledge we have mastered. When our learning contains holes and weak areas, it “collapses” because it doesn’t have a solid foundation to build upon. The kindergarten and first grade years are essential to build that solid foundation.


Reading is an essential skill for success in school and in life.

The impact illiteracy has on individuals and our society has a tremendous cost. Research connects illiteracy to the likelihood of dropping out of high school; higher crime levels and incarceration; unemployment; and a drain on national, state, and local economies.  What is frustrating is that illiteracy still persists! I ask, “How can this be when there is a wealth of knowledge and research available to prevent reading failure?” Investments in early reading interventions are vital. Waiting to remediate struggling readers who are entering middle or high school doesn’t make sense. Think of the tremendous burden to schools in terms of dollars and time. Think of the important learning that does not take place because students are struggling with a skill that should have been mastered by the age of eight. Most of all think of the impact on the children themselves faced each day with failure to achieve.


We need to nix the “one size fits all” decisions that are presently being made in education today.

How can we even begin to think that each district, school, or classroom is the same? While coherence is essential at many levels, too many decisions are made that have a negative effect on learning in schools and classrooms for the sake of “uniformity”. High standards are expected for all but do we really think the path to get there will look the same given the diverse needs of schools and their student populations?

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


Erin Lenz is a first grade teacher in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She began her career working with children sixteen years ago as a paraprofessional. During that time, she worked with children who struggled in school. Seeing the devastating effect of their failed attempts was the fuel that began Erin’s journey to become a teacher. She enrolled in college while continuing her work in schools. After graduating from the University of Idaho, she taught third grade before becoming the Title 1 Reading Teacher at her school. Over the years, Erin has attended numerous workshops, conferences, and classes on reading instruction. Her journey has led her to focus on beginning literacy and early intervention for K-3 students.