2020 Success Academy at Knotts Teacher of the Year

Tiffani Curtis


Tiffani Curtis
Success Academy at Knotts
Fifth Grade

What factors influenced your decision to become a teacher? Identify what you consider to be your greatest contributions to and accomplishments in education. 
I am a product of Kansas City Public Schools. I can remember every teacher I have ever had. I can tell you everything I loved about them, and how they made learning fun, depending on the teacher! I would not be me without them.

I remember how I loved my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Sign. She had to be the sweetest person I had ever met. She made me want to come to school every day. I remember my 100th-day-of-school project that year. My dad and I made a huge weeping willow tree on a poster with 100 cupcake wrappers as the branches. I absolutely loved seeing it hang in the hallway every day. I was so proud. I remember my second-grade art teacher entering a horse I drew prancing about a sold-out arena, with yarn as the hair of course, into an American Royal art competition. I never thought of myself as a very good artist, and was actually embarrassed by the whole thing. But, I was so excited when I received my ribbon for third place! I listen to stories my dad tells of how I used to “play school” outside at recess with my friends, and of course, I was always the teacher. I remember being pulled out of class twice a week in the second and third grades for the Arena program. I loved learning about different things like other cultures, it’s language, and even trying authentic food. To this day I still tell people my name in Greece would be Stephania. I remember praying before the fourth grade that I would get Mrs. White as my teacher. I had heard so many wonderful things about her. Little did I know, I was going to get her anyway because she taught the gifted and talented students. I smiled ear-to-ear when I walked into her class. She made learning fun, no matter the subject. I teach my own children things I learned from my fifth-grade teacher Ms. Barewin, like “Never, Eat, Soggy, Wheaties” to remember their four cardinal directions. I remember having to write what felt like a 50-page paper for my sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Goodine. We had to research what we wanted to be when we grew up. I knew I wanted to work with children, so I chose to be an OB/GYN. Delivering babies would be so rewarding! Upon completion of the paper, I knew that was not the career for me.

I remember getting a job in college working at a daycare, making $6.75 for only 20 hours a week. It was not much money, but I loved working with those babies. I think back to needing to choose a major. So, I chose Public Relations. I loved the major I chose, but my heart was not in it. I graduated from college and became a casualty claims adjuster for an insurance company. I made really good money doing so, too. But once again, my heart was not in it. After three years, I decided to go back to school to pursue my graduate degree in education. I have never been happier.

I chose to come back to the district that helped to shape and mold me into the person I am today. I chose to come back to the district to help and motivate children who look and act just like me.

All of these experiences have contributed to my love for education, along with my love for working with children. Because of these experiences and my background, I am able to relate to my students and understand them better. I am able to teach using real life, knowing this will give them a greater understanding of the curriculum. I am able to start each day anew and know that just like myself, their experiences are shaping them and their behaviors as well. I am able to give my students the same support and encouragement that was given to me to learn and be successful. I could have applied to teach in any school district. However, I chose to come back to the district that helped to shape and mold me into the person I am today. I chose to come back to the district to help and motivate children who look and act just like me. For these reasons and more, I choose to come back to this district to be a teacher for my students to grow up, think back and remember what they learned from Mrs. Curtis, and remember how she cared about them and their success.

Describe a project or initiative that you have led or been involved with that contributed to increasing equity in education and opportunity for students in your school. What was your role in this project and what was the impact? 
There is not one specific big project I have been involved in. I have done multiple things for my students to provide every opportunity to increase equity in education for them. Every school year, I purchase all of the school supplies for each of my students to last all year. I have written an essay for my entire school to receive a grant for a free field trip to Science City, twice. I have done a Donors Choose to receive an updated classroom library of current, interesting books. I also received books with characters that reflect the looks of my African American students, positive books they can see themselves in. I have provided breakfast and snacks to students on a daily basis to ensure their ability to properly learn. I have also helped run a food drive to provide meals to students during Thanksgiving break, just to name a few activities.