By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — On a routine Thursday afternoon, Lori Mayden is teaching science in her classroom. A knock at the door is not unusual, as students need to leave the classroom, to use the restroom, among other activities. After 1 p.m. however, the rap on the door reveals Principal Kevin Engle, Office Administrator Robin Johnson, Special Education teacher Steve Briscoe and NHS students, as Mayden was named Teacher of the the Year.
Mayden was overwhelmed at being chosen for the honor.
“It feels really great,” she said. “It feels great to be honored. I’ve worked hard these past 14 years.”
Mayden isn’t native to Newkirk, but in a way, she is. She was born in California to Steve and Linda Smith, both of whom grew up in Newkirk. Her father served in the U.S. Navy.
“When he got out of the Navy, he brought us back to Newkirk,” she said. “I got my education in Newkirk, and now I teach in Newkirk.”
Her primary education was at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, and when the school closed, she transferred to Newkirk Middle School, eventually graduating at Newkirk High School.
She would go on to study higher education due to her own experiences in high school, especially seeing students who were bullied and belittled. She wanted to be there for those who couldn’t protect themselves.
“When I was in high school, we had to report what we wanted to be when we grew up,” she said. “I wanted to be a teacher so I could be there for the students that needed someone, those who needed a voice.”
Athletics also would play a role, especially in basketball, as sport she learned to love. She dedicated her life to the sport, and it led her to college.
“I wanted to be a coach. I was big into fitness,” she said. “I’ve played basketball since sixth grade, all through college. I got scholarships to go play other places, including Cowley College,” she said.
She went on to play at Friends University, in Wichita, Kan. and eventually receive a degree in health and physical education, and had two career choices in mind: either physical education as a coach, or as a physical therapist.
She would soon get married, moving to Arizona with her husband, who was in the U.S. Air Force at the time. She later returned to Newkirk, where her father got her a job as a janitor at NPS. It was actually as a janitor that she received her first education opportunity, as she assisted students in Mr. Eisenhauer’s science class. Soon afterward, she was hired as a science teacher herself.
“He was a science teacher, and had struggling students. I’d listen to his lectures so I could help them,” she said. “Mr. Eisenhauer was going to retire, and Mr. Barnes talked to me about getting the Oklahoma teaching certification for science endorsement. When Mr. Eisenhauer retired, I was offered his job.”
Not long after, Mayden was soon teaching science at NHS, although health and athletics would still play a role, at least for a time.
Her science roles included physical science and environmental science, as well as sixth grade and seventh grade science. Athletic roles included middle school girls and boys physical education.
As it turns out, science fit her naturally due to her interest in physical education.
“I took a lot of science in college, because I was going to be a physical therapist,” she said. “I decided instead to go into physical education. By that time, I already had all these science courses.”
Being a teacher isn’t just a full-time job, but a constant one that takes up much personal time, including grading and creating assignments. There are also constant opportunities for self improvement, some of which may take place in the classroom.
“I love going to workshops to learn things, and I love the hands-on activities,” she said. “I love to see when when they do the (activities), how they put it together. When they put it together, I learn something, too.”
Mayden has taken on roles outside of teaching, including as a leader for STEPP-Up, or Students Encouraging Peers Positively-Up. She started with the organization as a volunteer before becoming its leader. Like teaching and coaching, it fit her well to help students.
“We are a peer organization where the kids are supposed to positively educate their peers,” she said, “It started out as drug awareness, and expanded to any type of problems the students have.”
She also became leader of the yearbook committee, which was an entirely new learning curve due to technology.
“When I was in school, I had no technology except an electric typewriter. It’s been a challenge, because I had to learn how to use the program,” she said.
Teaching has been Mayden’s biggest passion, and it hasn’t been with out stresses or other problems, but in the end, Mayden is happy with her career, as she helps to make the lives of the students better, one kid at a time.
“Whenever I started teaching, I’d already been out of college for 10 years. Ever since I started teaching, I attended workshops to learn and catch up with everybody else,” she said. “There were a lot of late nights, a lot of crying about kids, so it’s nice to be honored. Hard work and perseverance, and a love of the kids, pay off.”