- Kentwood High School
Heather Contreras is KSD's Teacher of the Year
“Make the minutes count, don’t count the minutes” is the coaching philosophy that KSD’s Teacher of the Year, Heather Contreras, would share with her student-athletes. She has also extended that same philosophy to her classroom throughout her 26 years of teaching.
Heather joined Team KSD in August 2008 as a math teacher and C-team basketball coach at Kentlake High School, where she is currently the head of the math department. Although she is very passionate about the subject, “reaching a student and breaking through to release their abilities” ultimately drives her. “I’m continually impressed with the strong relationships she builds with her students,” said school counselor Julie Gibson, “she is able to build these strong relationships while having a classroom management system that students respect and follow.”
Making connections is an integral part of Heather’s classroom. Her students love to see how math works, and Heather loves to help them see it come to life. She creates engaging projects for students to make these connections. After studying quadratics, one of these projects is having students build and launch catapults. This project allows students to see that parabolic flight is a quadratic equation. “I enjoy these opportunities where students get to see real-world connections.”
Heather’s passion for math also led to another passion of hers; understanding each student. The pandemic opened her eyes and challenged her to find ways to engage students in class. She had used Desmos before but had learned how to use it more productively in a way that would benefit her teaching and students’ learning. “I learned how to create Desmos interactive activities that would give me live feedback about how my students were thinking about math.” She then took this a step further and added Social Emotional Learning (SEL) activities so she could check in with students emotionally. Since then, Heather has taught professional development to teachers, administrators, and central office employees on the skills she had learned through Desmos. This remains a common practice in her classroom because “it gives students a voice and allows students to say things that can go unsaid.”
Aside from helping students, Heather is a tremendous support for her colleagues. Principal Heidi Maurer says, “as the long-standing department leader, Heather ensures that teachers new to the department have a safe place to learn their craft.” One of Heather’s proudest accomplishments has been supporting the Teacher Development Group (TDG) studio model and best practices in math instruction. This has allowed her to observe teachers’ classrooms and see best practices come to light. Math teacher Tim Van Schenk shared, “Heather makes time when other math teachers need help, and she excels at building a strong math team where everyone is included and valued.”
Heather’s dedication to her students, colleagues, and teaching is evident through her actions, and KSD is proud to have her a part of our team and as our 2023 Teacher of the Year. Congratulations, Heather, and thank you for making every minute count.