Todd Knight paused as State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra told him he was Idaho’s 2022 teacher of the year on Thursday.
Silent, eyes closed, Knight searched for the right words. How? Why? Was all that came to mind, he said afterward. For Knight, a science teacher at West Ada’s Crossroads Middle School, it felt like winning the lottery, after forgetting he’d purchased a ticket.
“Thank you. It is… I don’t know… I don’t know,” Knight said to a room full of students, Ybarra and a cadre of reporters and educators who piled into his classroom for the surprise announcement.
“Mind-boggling?” a student offered.
“Mind-boggling is a great word for it,” Knight replied, to a chorus of laughter. “It is extremely humbling.”
Knight, who teaches science, engineering, and coding at Crossroads, was selected from roughly 150 nominees as Idaho’s new teacher of the year. Next year, he’ll advise Ybarra’s State Department of Education, be a presence at the Statehouse and possibly travel to Washington, D.C., to represent Idaho, Ybarra said.
Ybarra praised Knight’s emphasis on student growth over achievement scores and his engaging approach to science, which includes letting students research how tackling in football demonstrates equal and opposite reaction, and how tug-of-war illustrates inertia.
“Todd has a special gift for engaging and exciting students by finding personalized, relatable ways to communicate scientific data and principles,” she said in a news release.
Knight, who was also named West Ada’s teacher of the year for 2021, has been at Crossroads since 2014. He has taught at West Ada’s Star and River Valley elementary schools since earning education degrees from Boise State University and Concordia University.
Teaching has always been Knight’s calling, mom Glenna Smith said. He’s drifted once or twice, changing his majors in college and considering careers in physics and chiropractic. In the end, Smith added, his path always led back to the classroom.
“He followed his heart, and he’s exceptional at it,” Smith said. The Teacher of the Year award, she said, is a “validation of everything he believes in.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint just one example of Knight going above and beyond for his students, Crossroads principal Joe Palaia said, because Knight does it every day. During the height of the pandemic, Knight took on extra responsibilities walking students through technological hurdles. If he sees a student withdrawing or being a loner, Knight goes out of his way to support them.
“He’s the type of guy that really engages students,” Palaia said. “As an alternative school, our kids are often disgruntled with the education system and they struggle. But he makes it come to life for them, and he does a great job with them.”
Smith, and wife Abby Knight, say Knight’s passion has always been helping disadvantaged students succeed. Long before joining the Crossroads staff, Knight was a substitute at the school. The community dynamic drew him back.
“The whole school oozed that warmth and community and that passion for teaching students to become responsible adults,” Knight said. “These are the kids who need to have that poured into them.”
He emphasized that community on Thursday, addressing Crossroads’ 150 students and staff who gathered to celebrate his award. He thanked his family, and asked students to look around and point to other teachers and staff that help with their education.
“It’s not something that I do alone,” Knight said. “We build upon each other, and we build each other up.”