Spanish Instructor Kimberly Radostits, ’07, Named Illinois Teacher of the Year
By Eva Richards

kim-radostits-imageKimberly Radostits, '07, works to ensure her students and colleagues feel valued and "cared about as humans."

Kimberly Radostits—known simply as “Ms. Rad” at Oregon High School where she teaches Spanish—loves school.

“I love everything about it. I love the routine, the fact that every day, every period is full of possibilities—the people, the interaction, the celebrations. All. Of. It,” she said. “As a Spanish teacher, I try to keep the passion for learning alive in my classes every day.”

While she clearly feels strongly about her profession now, she has always had a passion for education, which was evident as early as her first days in a classroom. 

“I grew up in Fairdale, Illinois, and loved being a part of a small town. At Hiawatha Elementary, Junior and Senior High Schools, I had some of the most inspiring teachers that made all their students feel valued. Within the first few months of kindergarten, I had decided that I wanted to be a teacher, too, because I had completely fallen in love with school.”

Her path became even clearer when she began taking trips to visit extended family in Mexico each summer.

“Every time I returned, I felt like I had left part of my heart (in Mexico), as well. The people, food, culture and memories I made on those trips definitely inspired me to pick Spanish as my subject area to teach, and I am very thankful for the culmination of all the experiences I had growing up because it brought me to where I am today.”

Through determination and hard work, Radostits earned her B.A. in Spanish language and literature from NIU in 2007 and, after interning at Oregon High School, she took a Spanish-teaching position there. Her track record during the past 15 years has shown that Radostits’ passion for learning and education has translated to truly inspired instruction. Last month, she received the prestigious 2022 Illinois Teacher of the Year Award from the Illinois State Board of Education.

“I do not know that I will ever have the words to truly express how I honored I am to have received this award,” she said. “This last month has been truly indescribable, and to be recognized for the thing you value most in life is incredible. I love teaching with every fiber of my being because of the students in my classes and the colleagues I work alongside. I am the person I am today because of the educators, both formal and informal, who believed in me. As a result, this award isn’t just for me… it belongs to the community I was raised in and the one that I have continued to grow in.”

Radostits insists that, as a teacher, she is a lifelong learner who is growing alongside her students every single day. Since earning her degree, she has worked to consistently push herself, seeking out many professional development opportunities, including earning her master’s degree in educational leadership from Aurora University, earning the prestigious designation of National Board Certification in 2011, and taking Spanish courses in Mexico. She is also one of the moderators of an online professional network for Spanish teachers with over 13,000 members, while writing articles, presenting at conferences, and providing professional development on technology to her colleagues. She has written curriculum, designed courses, taken her students abroad and helped plan numerous school events. 

“I am committed to making sure all my students and colleagues feel valued," she said. "Of all the things I have accomplished, I am most proud of my work in providing ALL students in our district with a seamless transition to high school by leading our district’s Freshmen Team and our afterschool mentorship program. Additionally, I take pride in the New Teacher Academy I designed and lead with a colleague that meets two times a month throughout the school year.”

Still, all of that comes second to what happens in Ms. Rad’s classroom.

“On any given day, you’ll find me standing outside my door during the five-minute passing period, chatting with anyone and everyone, asking students for the ‘password of the day,’ which will come from a shuffled stack of Spanish flashcards I store in my teaching apron. Correctly stating the password grants access to my room.”

Radostits gets excited about the simple things in the classroom, and she has a way of making the seemingly ordinary parts of the day into something special.

“I do get really excited about the conjugations of a verb, where you’ll literally see verb endings flying around,” she said. “However, the moments, where I have the opportunity to connect with students about how things are going in their lives and pass out ‘sticky notes of praise’ are the parts of my day where I feel like I am making a difference. I believe, with every fiber of my being, that an outstanding educator is one that makes sure every student is known and valued and that for a student to care about the content you are teaching, they must feel cared about as humans.”

Experiences with some struggling students have taught Radostits that enthusiasm, personalization, consistent formative feedback and making sure students feel valued is crucial to reaching every student. She has also learned, however, that reaching all students involves growing pains, and it takes persistence to make sure students like them feel like they can do school, that they can love school and, most importantly, that the people in a school love them. As a result, most days of the week, after school, you will find Ms. Rad working with students on Romeo and Juliet, slope intercept form or what makes a bill become a law, followed by her attending their sporting events. 

“I believe that my role as an educator is not only to teach Spanish but to teach confidence, compassion, selflessness and grit,” she said. “Time spent developing them into well-rounded individuals has been time well spent and has given me hope for the future.”

Radostits has the goal of including six to seven activities in a 45-minute class period, including reading, writing, listening and speaking. These segments allow her to provide formative feedback all period long. Now that Spanish seems more attainable to many students, the Spanish program has been increasing in enrollment, which means more students will be exposed to global perspectives. 

While it has been over 15 years since Radostits left the NIU campus, she has woven what she learned from her courses into her daily teaching.

“It was the professors at Northern that provided me with the foundation I needed to start building confidence and to start thinking about my philosophy of education,” she recalled. “I highly recommend the teaching program at NIU for any aspiring educators. The coursework is relevant to what is needed in practice and the connections the University has made with neighboring districts really do provide rich experiences that put new teachers in the best position possible to succeed in the first few years of teaching.”

Radostits has received this incredible honor relatively early in her career, and she intends to use this award to strengthen her teaching and the teaching profession.

“I plan to make it a lifestyle, and it is one that comes with responsibility,” she said. “I hope to use this platform to advocate for students who are at risk of not graduating on time. I believe that we can make the tools and resources to identify students who are at risk readily accessible to districts across the state so that teachers can work their magic. We have superheroes in every single district in Illinois who are doing amazing things every day, and we can improve our graduation rates with the right people working together.”

As for the future of teaching, Radostits believes that the U.S. education system is at a point where we need more and more people who are interested in being agents of change.

“I want to see more people take the leap into teaching. It is the best career ever, and I hope to connect with more youth who are aspiring to be educators. WE NEED YOU!” she said.