As Tiffany Richard faced a room full of new teachers preparing for their first classrooms, this past spring, she said she couldn’t help but think back to her first teaching assignment.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about my first students lately, because they were in Joplin,” Richard said.

Richard, a 1995 PSU graduate and the 2012 Kansas Teacher of the Year, spoke at PSU’s Student Teacher Graduation ceremony. She related a story about her first class, at Joplin High School, and the important lessons she learned there.

Richard told the new teachers that to be successful, they needed to care about each individual student.

“Our students must know that we care more about them than just their test scores,” she said. “When students know that you won’t let them down, they won’t let you down either.”

Richard acknowledged that “teaching is not easy” and along the way, each teacher faces many challenges.

“But do not lose sight of individual students in your classrooms,” she said.

Today, Richard is a biology and chemistry teacher at Olathe East High School in Olathe, Kan. She began her teaching career at Joplin High School and then moved to California, where she taught in El Segundo until returning to Kansas with her husband, Bryan, also a southeast Kansas native, and their two sons in 2003. She has taught in the Olathe school district since.

Richard comes from a family of teachers. Her father, Bill Biggs, was superintendent at USD 246 from 1988 to 1997. Her mother, Martha, taught English at Northeast High School from 1993 to 1997. Both are PSU alumni.