Linda Rost, the 2020 Montana Teacher of the Year, was named as one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year recognition awarded by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Rost is a high school science teacher who teaches anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, and science research in Baker, Montana. In an interview with KGVO News, Rost spoke about the process of applying for the recognition and her unique experience becoming a teacher.

To apply for Montana Teacher of the Year, Rost submitted a series of essays and answered interview questions that not only demonstrated her teaching style, but also showed how she gets involved in the community, how she works across grade levels and what she does to extend science education.

“The application itself was really rigorous, and one of the questions that I really enjoyed writing about was sharing a lesson that showcases our teaching philosophy,” Rost told KGVO News. “For that one, I wrote about a lesson I developed about the Grizzly bears in Montana and the delisting of the Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and how I also integrate Indian Education for All in that.”

In this lesson plan, “students become different roles in this big argument or controversy, and they take on the role as a tribal scientist or a tribal council member or a state scientist. That’s the lesson that I showcased, and I think that it showed how I can integrate science and place-based projects, and also our culture and values in society in Montana.”

Rost says that in preparation for the National competition, she worked with the 2019 Montana Teacher of the Year, Dylan Huisken. She edited her essays to “reestablish her platform” before submitting them again.

Rost, originally from El Paso, Texas, studied science at New Mexico State University while pursuing a passion for ecology and biology. She says an elective education class that she took junior year piqued her interest in teaching; when Rost began tutoring her peers, she realized that she had a natural talent for teaching, too

After moving to Montana, Rost was hired as a teacher in Ekalaka, Montana—however, she did not yet hold a teaching degree. Rost searched for a licensing program and joined an emergency licensure program in Bozeman, working for the license while still teaching in a classroom. She was able to earn a provisional license, although now she holds a Class 1 licensure and two Master’s Degrees. Rost says that earning her license while teaching in a classroom was hugely beneficial, as she was able to apply what she learned in the program directly to her curriculum.

Rost shares that, although she had some insecurities while applying for the Teacher of the Year recognition, she kept a friend’s encouraging words in mind.

“I’m pretty secure that I can teach these kids and this population. This is my niche, and I don’t know what it would be like to teach different populations, so that was really intimidating while I was preparing my essays, because I [thought], I don’t even know what it’s like to teach in these other places, so how can I represent the rest of the country?” Rost said.

“I had a friend…she told me, as I was crying and I was telling her about how I was feeling intimidated, ‘are you saying that Montana doesn’t have some of the highest-quality teachers in the nation?’ And I said, ‘no, I’m not saying that at all.’ That was the piece that kept me pushing forward and working really hard on my essays, and I think that really put me over the edge when she told me that.”

Rost will travel to Washington, D.C. in February to be interviewed along with the three other finalists from Louisiana, Ohio, and Kansas. The winner for the 2020 National Teacher of the Year will be announced this spring.