Snohomish educator opens doors of opportunities, diversifying workforce
"March 2020 made us totally rethink how we were doing schools," says Kathy Purviance-Snow, social studies and career and technical education educator at Snohomish High School. To ensure students could experience some normalcy in their new virtual environment, Purviance-Snow took their yearly breakfast and student interviews with local candidates and made it accessible online. (Check out the website at http://shsgov2020.weebly.com/ ) It was this project and her leadership in helping her team get up and running with technology to best serve students that led to her selection as the 2022 Washington state recipient of the California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence. Now, she is a top five finalist for the Horace Mann Award. On May 14, Purviance-Snow received the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence, which comes with $25,000.
Purviance-Snow, a member of the Snohomish Education Association, says that teaching is "part science, part art, and all heart." She entered the education profession as a second career. She credits her success as an educator to her peers in her building who have nurtured her over the years, and her mom and aunt, who she describes as "brilliant teachers." In her teacher preparation program, her class had a discussion on whether teaching is a mission or a profession. She has ultimately decided it’s a little bit of both. "You're helping kids see their potential and nurturing them to be the people and citizens you hope they will be, but at the same time it’s a job with expectations." She believes in the mission more than the profession, which is why, like so many educators, she stays late and comes in early.
The pandemic has been a challenge for her as a teacher and for her students. Her goal throughout has been to continue opening doors of opportunities for students. She recalls one young man she taught as a freshman. "He was someone who made some unfortunate choices and he didn’t have the best reputation," she says. "But he saw me as someone who valued him anyway and when he had a choice during COVID to drop out of school or to continue on, he said 'I decided to come back because of you, Ms. P. I didn’t want to disappoint you. I knew that you believed in me, and you knew that I could graduate and so, I came back.'"
Part of the process of being nominated for this award is getting letters of recommendation. Purviance-Snow talks about that humbling experience. "There’s just no way of knowing how you're impacting students until they speak those words out loud and you see them in black and white," she says. "To talk about some of the things I said or I did that caused them to rethink how they could imagine themselves or believe in themselves and move forward in that. Even if I hadn't won, just going through the process was so impactful to know that people thought so highly of me."
Award-winning educators are offered a platform from which they uplift their students and colleagues. Purviance-Snow says she will use hers to work to increase the diversity of the teaching staff in our state and throughout the nation. She is already working with her local UniServ on a grow your own program to develop students of color in becoming teachers. With the teacher shortage and so many upcoming retirements, Purviance-Snow points out that "our classrooms are filled with students of color and they’re not seeing people that represent them."
"It is important," she says, "that we let students of color know that they are not only capable of becoming teachers and educators, but they are needed in this profession to add their voice." She has also been accepted into this year's WEA NAKIA Academy cohort.
Outside of school, Purviance-Snow finds inspiration in her faith. It is her faith that inspires her to be the person she is and makes her a better teacher. As she discusses this, she talks about the rally held May 30, 2020, in Snohomish for George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer in Minnesota. The very next day on May 31, Snohomish was overrun with white supremacists holding their own rally. Students of color made a documentary about those two days. Purviance-Snow makes an appearance in the film, which debuted on Oct. 16, 2021. She wants to see every human being be able to walk in their potential and be who they can be without facing discrimination. "Without my faith, I wouldn’t be able to believe that day is coming. I probably couldn’t walk through this planet loving humans," she says.
As a 2022 California Casualty Educator of Excellence and Horace Mann Award finalist, Purviance-Snow has several messages she would like to share. To students, she says, "Find that thing that you really love doing and do that. You will find success." To leaders, she says, "Stop changing things. We have research-based systems in place that we know works for kids. We don't need the bright new shiny thing. We need time. Let teachers do their jobs. We are the ones who are in the trenches working hard for our students and we have their best interests at heart. We know our students and we know how to get the best from them. Get out of the way and allow teachers to do their jobs. Finally, before proposing or implementing any policy, spend time in K-12 classrooms. You cannot make good policy without first understanding the constituency who elected you." And, to her fellow educators, she says, "I see you. I see how hard you're working, and I appreciate you. Especially during the pandemic. You are amazing. You are rockstars. Students look to you and see more than just a teacher. We help students do more than learn. I am proud to call myself a teacher."
Purviance-Snow, along with the other 2022 California Casualty Teachers of Excellence will be celebrated at the NEA Foundation Gala for Teaching Excellence in Washington, D.C. on May 13. Tune in, as the Horace Mann awardee is announced.