Long before she was named the 2024 Colorado Teacher of the Year, Jessica May was giving homework assignments as a child to her dolls and stuffed animals.
“I always loved school and always wanted to hang out with my teachers,” Jessica says now. “There was never any doubt this is what I was supposed to be, because I loved it.”
Taught for 20 years
Jessica, who has taught for over 20 years (with a break in the middle to care for her four sons when they were young), is now a Family and Consumer Science teacher at Turner Middle School in Berthoud.
Colorado Department of Education 2024 Teacher of the Year
She was recently recognized by the Colorado Department of Education as the 2024 Teacher of the Year, an honor she hopes will allow her to advocate for students and staff in ways she hasn’t been able to before.
“I’m super excited that I finally feel like I have a platform,” she said. “I really want to make my year count and make more improvements for what teachers need. I am very vocal. I feel like I have fought for kids my entire career. Now I have the opportunity to fight for all of the teachers that do the same thing.”
Jessica also plans to advocate for several of her own ideas, including allowing middle school students to do vocational education instead of waiting until high school.
“We’ve got to get the middle schoolers through middle school for them to get to high school,” she says. “We lose them if we don’t start until ninth grade. We’ve got to catch the ones who don’t fit the mold.”
Product of Thompson School District
Jessica calls herself a “product of Thompson School District” and was a Loveland High School graduate. She has taught at multiple TSD middle schools, including Bill Reed, Conrad Ball (now Peakview Academy at Conrad Ball), and Turner. She has also taught many subjects – including social studies, language arts and math.
Most recently, she took over as the FACS teacher at Turner Middle School, teaching everything from how to do laundry to how to budget to how to clean using natural cleaning agents.
Middle School Teacher
Although Jessica had always envisioned herself as an elementary teacher, it didn’t take much time teaching middle school students before she realized she was where she was meant to be.
“They are witty enough to get things that young adults get, but they will still be little kids,” Jessica says. “I love how they have better ideas than anybody gives them credit for.”
Welcome to the Real World
No matter where she was teaching, the common thread for Jessica has been prioritizing the things students want – and need — to learn. Students walking into Jessica’s classroom at Turner are greeted by a large, colorful mural that boldly proclaims: Welcome to the Real World.
“No matter what subject you give me, I’m going to bring the real world to the kids, and we’re going to learn it,” she says. “I’ve always done that. What would I want to learn when I was their age? Everything I do is to focus on how I can help them become their best selves.”
Trust and Respect
Jessica says she expects her students to earn her trust and respect, just as she is willing to earn it from them in return. She does this by implementing a “boot camp,” in which students learn about what the expectations are in her classroom – and what the consequences are if they cross the line.
“I’ve got their back,” Jessica says. “Whatever they need, I’ve got it. I also back up my words with actions. If I tell them I’m going to do something, I do it. After that comes the content.”
Jessica’s room is filled with the things students might need, from bandages and the loan of a warm
sweatshirt, to one of her well-known “mom hugs.”
That’s Somebody’s Child
“I’m a hugger,” she says. “My main goal as a teacher is to love them. That’s somebody’s child. They know they’re loved, and that I see them.”
Jessica says many of her beliefs about caring for kids came from her own mother, who took in nearly 200
foster children throughout Jessica’s childhood.
“I’ve seen what trauma can do, and I saw my mom overcome that with her foster children,” Jessica says.
“I apply that same patience and love with my kids.”
Consistent Support and Encouragement
Another thing Jessica’s students can count on is her consistent support and encouragement. She teaches her students about self-care, giving them a few tech-free “self-care days” each semester to just play games, color in coloring books, and relax. By allowing them to learn about how to take care of themselves as adults, Jessica believes she is giving them priceless lessons that they will carry throughout life.
“Whatever they need, I am here to serve,” she says. “It is my calling. Without them, I wouldn’t be a
teacher. I’d just be a creepy old lady with her stuffed animals and dolls.”