Erin Norton always wanted to be a teacher. Her mom, her aunt and her sister-in-law were all teachers.
When she was just a girl, her mom helped with the after school choir at First Baptist Church in Louisville and Norton would help her with the younger children.
“That’s when I realized I enjoyed helping kids,” she said. “I never really had anything else in mind.”
She graduated college in 2014 and started teaching right away. She had been at it about six years when the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Teachers everywhere, those both with a lifetime of experience and those just starting out, were in the same boat trying to find new ways to keep children forced out of traditional classrooms from falling behind.
Tina Ethridge, principal of Louisville Academy, said that Norton, who now teaches fourth grade, stepped up and became a leader helping to not only find ways to implement technology to serve students both in the classroom and at home, but she also led sessions assisting other teachers embrace the technology.
“She is very innovative,” Etheridge said. “She’s always going out of her way to find new ways of doing things. She’s one of those teachers who always tries to find creative ways to get things across to her kids and make everything engaging and interactive for kids.”
Etheridge said that it is Norton’s effectiveness in the classroom and the assistance she gives other teachers that led to her being named Jefferson County’s Teacher of the Year.
“She was very instrumental in guiding them through the process of learning to teach virtually and getting them comfortable with doing that,” Ethridge said. “We had teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade teaching virtually to kids at home and to kids at school at the same time using headsets and moving around their classrooms, monitoring both sets of students at the same time.”
Even with the pandemic, Norton said that what she does every day remains as fulfilling as she had hoped it would be, even as the challenges change.
The pandemic has forced teachers to learn new skills, but she sees an impact that first year had on students.
“Some it has affected socially, some academically and some both,” Erin said. “We are dealing with all of that.”
Many students lost all of the social expectations of being in groups of other children when they spent most of a year learning from home. And while the schools provided laptops, packets and virtual learning options, there were students who ran into issues with internet availability.
“We did all we could, but it wasn’t the same as being in the classroom,” she said. “But we learned a lot and now that we are back full time we are utilizing technology more and we know how to incorporate it as a learning tool along with everything we were doing before.”
Using the new technology comes easy to her, she said. She also understands that it does not necessarily come easy to everyone. She still gets calls from other classrooms as fellow teachers need help with this program or that application.
“I really admire her willingness to step out of the box sometimes and try new things,” Ethridge said. “The kids love her. Her parents love her. Ella she’s very structured and she means business and she wants her kids to learn. She was the one class who had all of her kids logging in to her live sessions of her every day. ”
Norton said that through all the changes, the basics of what it means to be a teacher has remained the same.
From delivering the content to teaching every unique child in a classroom to making time after school for special one-on-one attention, building relationships with students and using those relationships to get the most from them, teaching during the pandemic is still teaching.
Norton said she was moved when her fellow teachers voted her the school’s teacher of the year and felt supported when chosen to represent the county. She referred to a Ted Talk by professional educator Rita Pierson.
“My favorite quote is, ‘Every student needs a champion,’” Norton said. “And I want to be that champion for them. I want to be able to build those relationships and know that the kids who are giving you the hardest time need the most amount of love. They need to know that someone is behind them, pushing them to be the best that they can be.”