The Flinn Foundation and Flinn Scholars Program recognize all the talented and devoted educators in Arizona and their immeasurable impact. During this Teacher Appreciation Week, the Flinn Scholars Program honors Mary Catherine Boatright of Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, named by 2021 Flinn Scholar Mitch Zakocs as the educator who has most influenced his education. Read below about Boatright’s career as a teacher and what inspires her in the classroom.
How long have you been a teacher?
I first started teaching in 1981—so this year makes 40 years! My first teaching job was at a small parochial school (Pre-K–9th grade) in Casper, Wyoming. I taught Spanish and English and sponsored whatever club needed sponsoring. I decided to go back to school and came all the way from Wyoming to Phoenix. I received my master’s degree in Spanish in 1993. While studying at Arizona State University, I taught (as a TA) two lower-level Spanish classes each semester. I fell in love with Arizona and applied to several school districts to teach Spanish. I started teaching at Mountain Pointe in the fall of 1993 and have been here ever since.
What subjects do you teach?
I teach Spanish 1, 4, and 5 and serve as the campus gifted coordinator. I teach advanced studies and internship through our gifted program. I am the sponsor of our chapter of the National Honor Society and Pride’s Peak—our gifted students’ association. Pre-pandemic, I sponsored our campus peer-tutoring program and am hoping to sponsor it again once we return fully in person.
What inspires you about these subjects?
I had good Spanish teachers in Wyoming, and they inspired me to continue with the language in college. It was the 1970s, and I knew that it would be hard to convince my dad to let me study abroad, so I chose a school that required students to study in a country of their chosen language their junior year. I was fortunate enough to be placed with a host family in Sevilla, España, that fostered my love of Spanish even more. I have kept in contact with them since 1978, and while I was teaching in Wyoming during the 1980s, I would spend my summers with them.
I love teaching the advanced studies and internship classes because I work with some of the most brilliant and creative minds on our campus. These students set their course of study or choose their professional internships, and I serve as support for them. I so enjoy seeing them come to life when they tell me about their projects and I feel humbled to be a part of their journey.
How do you engage with your students in the classroom?
I treat students the way I want to be treated—with dignity, respect, and authenticity. It is just as simple as that. My students know that I consider my classroom a sacred space where all are welcome. I guess you could call me “old school,” but I feel like as the adult in the room, I should not be hesitant to respond to inappropriate behavior—with kindness, of course. I don’t hold a grudge, and my kiddos know that. They also know that they are safe to “call me out” when I do not behave as I have tried to model to them. They just have to know how to do so appropriately, but what a good life skill to learn!
Academically speaking, I am not afraid to take risks with my teaching and so my students feel free to take risks as well with their learning. I was into differentiation before “it was cool” and am moved to find opportunities for my students to be more creative with the content.
I try very hard to connect with all my students—to have something shared such as a love of reading or a dislike of funky vegetables. I want my students to realize that I am their teacher, but at the same time, I don’t want to be the “Sage on the Stage” but rather the “Guide on the Side.”
How did you encourage Mitch Zakocs leading up to or during the Flinn Scholars application process?
The gifted counselor and I worked with quite a few students at the very beginning of the school year to acquaint them with the Flinn Scholarship and to offer help with the application process. Mitch was among those students who took advantage of our offer. Because Mitch is my student, he and I were able to discuss things before class started or during office hours when we were virtual. As Mitch was applying, he would ask me to read over his essays and let him know what I thought. Once Mitch became a semifinalist, the gifted counselor and I set up a mock interview practice with Mitch and several teachers on campus. He had no idea who would be present and even less of an idea what we would ask him. Once the interview was over, we shared with Mitch what we thought went well and what might need some work. Our former gifted coordinator connected Mitch with past Mountain Pointe Flinn awardees, too.
What was your reaction when Mitch told you he would like to recognize you as his Distinguished Educator at the annual Flinn Scholars Recognition Event?
First I was thrilled for Mitch to have been awarded the Flinn, and then to have him recognize me as his Distinguished Educator was almost too much to take in at once. I am so proud of Mitch, and this means so much for our school. And truly, this all belongs to him. I am just so happy to share it with him.
How did it feel to be recognized a second time, with Flinn Scholar Vaishnavi Koka in 2014 being the first?
It feels like winning the teacher lottery! Two gifted, talented, kind, creative souls found something in me that they were moved to recognize. It just does not get any better.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
I am passionate about teaching and as a lifelong learner myself; what better career could I possibly have? It isn’t always easy and is tiring at times—this last year has been a year for the books—but I feel like I make a difference in the lives of my students. To be a small part in the bigger scheme of things is rewarding. To know that my students have learned more than just Spanish, but also a little about life, is rewarding. To have a ninth grader thrilled to be able to respond in Spanish to a novice-low question with a novice-high response is rewarding. To have juniors want to go on after the fourth year to the fifth year, when they could just as easily take a release hour, is rewarding. To have a senior tell you he is going to study Spanish at Northern Arizona University and become a high-school Spanish teacher is rewarding. To have not one, but two, Flinn Scholars honor you with Distinguished Educator is rewarding. Most importantly, though, to make connections with my students is the most rewarding of all!
Meet the 2021 Flinn Scholars