National Teacher of the Year

1991 National Teacher of the Year

NameRae E. McKee
StateWest Virginia

School Information

School Address
Slanesville Elementary SchoolSlanesville, WV
Teaching AreaReading
Teaching Level6-Jan

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10, 1991 - A remedial reading instructor from West Virginia, chosen from among the nation's more than 2.5 million elementary and secondary public school teachers, has been named the 1991 National Teacher of the Year.

The award winner, Rae Ellen McKee, 33, teaches at Slanesville Elementary School in Slanesville, WV. President Bush travels today to her school where he will present McKee a crystal apple, the traditional symbol of teaching. McKee will then accompany the President back to Washington where national recognition continues in a series of events introducing her to the national educational and policy-making communities.

The National Teacher of the Year Program is the oldest and most prestigious awards program to focus public attention on excellence in teaching. The program, now in its 40th year, is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

"My new title as National Teacher of the Year makes me prouder than ever to proclaim myself a teacher," said McKee, who is a fifth generation teacher. "I wear the armor of a professional. I am not embarrassed to vocalize the positive qualities of my profession, nor am I slow to defend it. It is not myself that I seek to champion, but the good that teachers do."

She was born and grew up in the small West Virginia Appalachia community of Levels, about ten miles from where she now teaches. Most of her ancestors, who settled in the region in the late 1700's, were teachers; in one branch of the family, 10 of the 13 offspring became teachers.

However, she credits her father, an elementary school teacher and administrator in the area for 40 years, with giving her the desire to teach and the special interest in helping disadvantaged children in rural areas. "Through his example," McKee recalls, "I learned to be more than a teacher--I learned to be an educator. In my father's classroom, all children were equal because all had the ability to learn, perhaps not at the same pace or in the same language, but all could partake. Through his dedication, he showed me how much could be done to help all people, regardless of their situations, if interest and energy were directed toward alleviating barriers that kept them from reaching their full potential."

"He taught me that any job that demanded much time was not worth doing unless you were bettering the existence of another human being. He insisted that his students, of which I was one, never stop growing or learning."

Rae McKee began her teaching career 12 years ago after graduating from Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, WV, with a bachelor of arts in elementary education. In 1983 she received a master of arts in clinical reading from West Virginia University in Morgantown, where she is currently working toward another masters, in educational supervision.

She once turned down the opportunity to attend law school because, as she put it, "teaching is in my blood."

Instead, she decided to persist in her teaching aspirations because, as she also says, "I had been given so much that I was intent on giving something back to the children of West Virginia."

"I am of Appalachia," she says. "That is why I chose to teach in West Virginia. I know her children. Two decades ago, I grew up with them. The children of the poor migrant and tenant farmers of the region were my neighbors, classmates and friends. Now I feel I can help create a bright future for them."

Gary Kidwell, principal of the Slanesville Elementary School, where McKee has taught for the past two years, observed her influence in this comment. "Upon her arrival at our school, she began to motivate our most disillusioned students to participate, learn, and enjoy her classes. Before long this excitement to learn became a part of these students' entire day."

A colleague of McKee's at the school credits her with reviving her own flagging enthusiasm for teaching. "In a brief year," she says, "I feel like a teacher again."

Through her use of such props as purple cows, popcorn and pizza, McKee's first to sixth grade students have discovered that reading can actually be fun and are motivated to read.

In her role as National Teacher of the Year, which will have her traveling across the country to speak before numerous educational and business organizations, McKee will stress the importance of all sectors of the community working together to bring about quality education for America's children.

"The school cannot be the only agent responsible for developing the skills and character of young people," she says. "The community, too, must seek to educate." This is why she also is involved in a welter of after-school activities. In addition to serving as a literacy volunteer, Sunday school teacher, and pianist and organist at her house of worship, she is also active in the local extension homemakers club, library foundation, Red Cross, American Legion Auxiliary, and many other community groups.

"While my children are very young, my primary support for the community must be to instill in my own the values that I can only hope to instill in my students," she says. Married to John McKee, an electrical lineman, she is the mother of a seven-year-old daughter, Mollie, and a two-year-old son, Zachary.

The other finalists in the 1991 National Teacher of the Year program were: Beatrice Kramer Volkman, a special education teacher/arts facilitator at Old Shell Road School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Mobile, AL; Shirley A. Hopkinson, a Pre-Kindergarten teacher at Brightwood Elementary School in Washington, DC; and Shirley A. Rau, a 12th grade English teacher at Nampa High School, Nampa, ID.

Rae McKee's Thoughts on Teaching