A good teacher has the power to shape the thinkers, leaders, and doers of entire generations and bring about change even if only in their corner of the world. Katie Peters has been bringing about these generational changes for the last 16 years as a high school English teacher. What sets Katie apart is her genuine nature to meet her students where they are, establish rapport, and understand a shared common ground which opens the door for real learning to take place. She has taken a few hard knocks to get to where she is as a woman and a professional, but she takes it as a lessons learned and it’s all up from here.

Her first year of teaching, Katie was actually told she spent too much time building rapport and not enough time getting into the subject matter. This feedback was a low blow because in her mind, she was doing a great job. However, by the end of the year, something ironic happened: 100% of her at-risk students passed their reading and math standardized tests. At that moment, she had a paradigm shift; she realized that building relationships is the key to everything. As the old saying goes, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Although many of her students came from drastically different backgrounds, she saw the importance of validating their feelings to make way for a breakthrough to common ground. Katie also began to see that many of the world’s problems stemmed from damaged relationships and miscommunication. She felt charged to continue to pour into her students, because they are the next generation who will go forward and attempt to make the world a better place.

The Teacher Becomes the Student

After a lesson she learned from one of her students, Katie builds rapport by listening and asking the right questions. She once repeatedly asked one of her students what he wanted to be, and he continued to tell her he wanted to be an NBA player. Exhausted by the exchange, she said, “Life doesn’t always work out the way we want.” Her student responded, “You keep asking me what I want to do and not who I want to be.” Katie suddenly had another moment, he was right, she discovered that he wanted to be someone who was going to make a difference and impact people’s lives. Later, this same student went on to be a published author and Toledo firefighter. In that moment, she decided she wanted to impact her students and everyone in her path to be good human beings, not just good scholars. “We have plenty of smart people, who do evil things. We need more good people in the world,” says Katie. Also, someone’s profession doesn’t define them, it’s the “why” behind what they do that really matters.

Although Katie is a self-professed “late bloomer” because she didn’t learn who she really was and what happiness meant to her until later in life, she encourages and shows her students to find themselves so they don’t have to pretend. In her opinion, everyone should be unapologetic about who they are, because it will bring them great joy and it will be that much easier to establish relationships with others who have vastly different viewpoints if you have a mutual respect.