Florida’s 2023 Teacher of the Year Provides Five Tips for Parents

Melissa Matz was selected as the 2023 Florida Teacher of the Year on July 14, 2022. Melissa began her career in the Sunshine State when she was recruited after graduating from University of Northern Iowa. She attended the “Great Florida Teach-In,” a job fair organized by the Florida Department of Education that has been put on annually for years. School district and charter school representatives from around the state attend and often interview prospective teachers on the spot.

“They were able to take my transcript and my certification and transfer them into a Florida certification license,” said Melissa Anne Matz, who has taught math in Clay County for 18 years. “It was very seamless, very easy. It was just great to have all that happening under one roof. And I was able to flourish as a teacher in Clay County.”

Now, Matz is taking a one-year pause from her role teaching 7th-grade math at Lakeside Junior High to serve as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, working to create greater public awareness of Florida’s outstanding teachers and elevating the education profession. She will have the opportunity to promote and celebrate the countless contributions of Florida’s teachers, provide professional learning opportunities to educators and recruit future teachers into the education field.

“I teach my students that by applying their knowledge, taking risks, and stepping outside of their comfort zones, they can achieve extraordinary things.” – Melissa Anne Matz

She’ll miss teaching middle schoolers, though.

“Teaching middle school is just so wonderful,” she said. “Middle school is a big transition. There is more stress, more challenges. They are becoming much more independent. As a teacher, we set them up for success in high school by making sure they have test-taking and study strategies. And giving kids the tools to navigate through that time in their life is just so important to me.”

Matz offers these tips to parents who want to help their kids of any age thrive:

  • Stay informed. “It can be time consuming, but track their progress,” Matz suggests. Follow their grades, and sign up for school newsletters and teacher updates.
  • Communicate. When you begin to have a concern, honor that by giving voice to it. “A parent might not remember how to do algebra, so reach out,” she said. “When you start to see struggles, you need to reach out to teachers and to the school.”
  • Celebrate. Whether your child soars or runs into difficulties, they will show growth. “We have the new F.A.S.T. progress monitoring system, and parents can use that resource to stay aware,” Matz said. “Use that resource to celebrate success.”
  • Support their journey. Schools offer an incredible array of electives and clubs. When students get involved, they boost the fun while becoming more well-rounded. “Give courage and support to try something new — like drama, construction, robotics, welding, debate,” Matz said. “The CTE — career and technical education — programs are just amazing now. The opportunities for these students are very different than what we had when we were kids. There are so many different pathways. So check them out; it could be a pathway to a career, a hobby or a passion.”
  • Invite your student into your conversation with the teacher. When appropriate, Matz often invites students to join in the parent-teacher meeting to brainstorm solutions. “A student will say, ‘I work better when I’m in the front of the room,’ and once I know, I can make that change. Teachers are always trying to find ways to help students with barriers and struggles.” 

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