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Undergraduate Teacher of Year is model for aspiring teachers



Put simply, Kristen Apraiz – recently named the COE’s Undergraduate Teacher of the Year — makes lasting impressions in the classroom.

Kristen Apraiz10 (cropped)“After completing seven semesters at the University of Florida, [Dr. Apraiz] is one of the best professors I’ve ever had,” senior Paulette Santa-Parzons wrote in one of several nomination letters that helped determine the winner. “She practices what she teaches. The activities she presents in class are engaging, thought-provoking and applicable to our future classrooms.”

Apraiz, who taught for two years as a COE graduate student before earning her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction last year, now serves as a clinical assistant professor and teaches mathematics education in the Unified Elementary ProTeach program.

Prior to that, the Cape Coral, Fla., native spent seven years teaching math at charter and public schools in Florida, and her athletic ability came in handy when she coached varsity swimming for four years at New Smyrna Beach High School.

Apraiz is now eligible for this year’s University Undergraduate Teacher of the Year Award, but that’s not something the married mother of a 14-month-old daughter has time to think about.

“I love my job already, so being recognized by my students is icing on the cake,” said Apraiz, who earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Florida State University. “As a teacher, you never know where you stand with your students, but those letters – they were so honest, so sincere. They just overwhelmed me.”

Apparently the feeling is mutual.

Kristen Apraiz13 copy

2015 Undergraduate Teacher of the Year Kristen Apraiz (lefrt) works with elementary ed. student Taylor Goyette on a lesson in teaching math in an inclusive elementary classroom.

“Dr. Apraiz was constantly offering us specific support and praise when we shared our thoughts or answers,” wrote Briana Shustari, who had Apraiz for two undergraduate ProTeach courses. “This showed us the importance of treating our future students with this same encouragement and kindness, [and] it motivated us to continue to put in our best effort and made us feel that our contributions were of value.”

Apraiz says it’s important that she knows who her students are, not just as education majors, but as young adults who have lives outside the classroom.

“It just seems natural to me,” said Apraiz, whose teaching origins go back to early childhood when she would teach her stuffed animals how to add and subtract. “I mean, we’re all going to be in the same room for a semester. Why wouldn’t I want to know who they are?”

No arguments there, either.

“She takes the time to ask us how we are doing in our other classes and within our practicum,” pre-service student Raina Weismantel wrote in her nomination. “Anyone who has had Dr. Apraiz for a professor knows that you are always welcome to visit her during her office hours for not only math help, but for emotional support as well.”

Put simply, it all adds up for a math education professor whose students make lasting impressions as well.