Kindergarten teacher Darci Ostermiller always starts the school year by telling her young students they’re “the best class ever.” In her bright and cheerful classroom, she often …
Kindergarten teacher Darci Ostermiller always starts the school year by telling her young students they’re “the best class ever.” In her bright and cheerful classroom, she often declares it’s the “best day.”
Ostermiller now has another best to add to the list: Best teacher.
Recognized as the Teacher of the Year for Park County School District 1 for 2022, Ostermiller is known for her effervescent joy and overflowing love for her students, said Superintendent Jay Curtis.
He recently wrote a letter recommending Ostermiller for the 2022 Wyoming Teacher of the Year award.
“Darci is unquestionably the most positive person you will meet, and absolutely exudes a love for teaching and learning,” Curtis wrote. “However, what truly sets her apart is her incredible grasp of what it takes to ensure high levels of learning for EVERY student in her class.”
Ostermiller’s love of teaching is genuine.
“I certainly love what I do,” she said, adding, “I like to say that I don’t go to work a day in my life, because I just get to do what I love.”
This marks Ostermiller’s 25th year of teaching, with the past 15 years as a kindergarten teacher at Westside Elementary School. She and her husband, Cory, have three children, and when the kids were little, she had her own preschool, Little Learners, which provided more flexibility as a mom. Ostermiller also taught special education at Livingston Elementary School in Cody.
“Mrs. O manages her flock of children like a maestro conducting an orchestra through positive and genuine relationships, consistent and fun routines, carefully scaffolded lessons with hands-on learning and just-right feedback, high expectations and the message that mistakes are opportunities for growth and improvement,” wrote Westside Principal Angie Woyak in a recommendation letter.
Woyak said every child feels special in Ostermiller’s classroom.
“The countless hours spent creating her ‘magical’ learning environment do not go unnoticed,” Woyak said.
During the 2020-21 school year, that also meant crafting remote instruction plans and resources for two kindergarten students who were unable to attend school in person. In addition to providing instruction via Zoom and weekly lesson plans, Ostermiller sometimes taught through fences or screened windows at those students’ homes, Woyak said.
“Mrs. Ostermiller’s influence extends far beyond her classroom and one might say she is a true positive domino across our school and district,” Woyak said. “She has the unique ability to see and communicate the silver lining in all situations.”
True to form, when asked about the challenges of teaching amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ostermiller highlights the positives.
“I had to grow a lot, and I think it was good for my students to see that I have to learn,” she said.
Even though Ostermiller learns every year, she said it was “very evident” in 2020-21.
“It was really hard, but yet, I got to see how resilient these kids are,” she said. “Honestly, these kids are the heroes of the pandemic — they have overcome so many things.”
During the last school year, students were required to wear masks for most of the school day and “they just did it,” Ostermiller said. “We’re a team, and I told them that I want them here at school, and so they need to do this so we can have fun together.”
Ostermiller is known for making learning and school fun.
“Her unleashed creativity has brought us some of the most entertaining of Readers’ Theaters, Kindergarten Circuses and Harvest Festivals as her costumes, acting skills, and balloon creations dazzle everyone,” Woyak said.
Ostermiller said she enjoys each day with her students, and the joy they bring into the classroom.
“The world right now can be kind of cynical, and that’s not where I live,” she said. “I live with these kids that are happy to be here and think the world is amazing. It’s really cool to be in here every day.”
Through the course of the school year, Ostermiller watches her kindergartners learn and grow. When facing challenges, she tries new things, as “no one thing works for every kid.”
“You take each kid and you grow them to the next step — if they’re behind or on level or advanced,” she said. “You don’t look at the whole year, you just look at, what’s the next step.”
The resources that Ostermiller utilizes range from preschool through second grade to ensure she has the tools necessary to meet students’ needs. During the past school year, she had students who were as young as 4 (since the cut-off date was Sept. 15) and others as old as 7.
Some kids come into the classroom scared or nervous, but Ostermiller instills in her students that they’re a team and the best class ever.
“They certainly grow — it just amazes me every year,” she said. “It’s shocking to me what they can do, even though I’ve seen it time and time again. And it’s not lost on my heart what a miracle it is.”
While it takes tools and skill to guide their path, “in the end, they’ve done it.”
For Ostermiller, the saddest day of the year is the last day of school, when she has to say goodbye to her kids.
“I spend seven hours a day with these kids, and then you say goodbye,” she said. “And yeah, they are next door, but they’re not mine anymore.”
She loves seeing her former students, whether they’re down the hall at Westside, playing high school sports or all grown up.
Ostermiller also enjoys working with high school students who come to her class for their practicum. Tessa (Eller) Rasmussen did her practicum with Ostermiller, then worked as a paraeducator and eventually became a kindergarten teacher at Westside. Rasmussen and fellow kindergarten teacher Brittany Mollett nominated Ostermiller for Teacher of the Year.
“I’m humbled to have this opportunity,” Ostermiller said of the award, adding, “There are so many amazing teachers.”
Ostermiller said she is “surrounded by such fantastic professionals” at Westside and throughout the school district, and it takes a team.
“I think that that’s what makes great teachers, is hanging around people that make you better,” Ostermiller said, “and I don’t care how long or how little you’ve taught — you can learn from other people.”
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