Mothers can be great role models — and that was definately the case for young Megan Nagel. She watched her mother, Janet Weaver, teach. She watched her mother be an elementary school principal. 

As a child, Nagel would play in the classrooms of her mother's schools. 

"My mom has been such an influential part of my teaching story," Nagel told The Kansan. "Growing up some of my earliest memories were standing in her classroom on the second floor of (now closed) Lincoln (Elementary) pretending to be a teacher. As long as I can remember, being deeply involved in public education has been a way of life."

Still, teaching was not really the place she thought she would end up. It was not the career she dreamed uf, until she had a life-changing experience in high school. 

"At one point in middle school, I swore I would never be a teacher," Nagel said "However, during my junior year of high school I had the opportunity to be a community aide at Sunset. I caught the teaching bug and have never looked back." 

She went to Bethel College and graduated, then took a teaching job at South Breeze. Now a six-grade English Language Arts and science teacher at Santa Fe 5/6 Center, she was just this week   named one of six Region 4 finalists for the 2018 Kansas Teacher of the Year award.

As a finalist for the Kansas Teacher of the Year distinction, Nagel received a $2,000 cash award from Security Benefit, a corporate partner for the Kansas Teacher of the Year program. In addition, she is now eligible to be named Kansas Teacher of the Year, which will be announced a during Nov. 18 ceremony in Wichita.

Region 4 covers the fourth U.S. congressional district.

"I  am grateful and deeply honored by being selected as the Elementary Educator for region four," Nagel said. It is overwhelming when you think about it — there are approximately 40,000 teachers in Kansas, 111 who were nominated for Kansas Teacher of the Year, and now eight finalists. Every day I have the opportunity to head to a job which I love, with people who encourage and motivate me and work with students who inspire me."

She didn't always love it. At one point, early on in her career, she was considering walking away. 

" I quickly found out that I was not a Kindergarten teacher. After two years of saying 'please don't lick the water fountain' and 'be nice to your friends,' I was ready to quit the teaching profession," Nagel said.

Her then Principal Jan Plummer suggested moving up to 5th grade — and it was then she began to flourish.

"The move to fifth grade changed my life. I found that I loved this age group," Nagel said. "Kids were excited to learn and just needed to be encouraged to find their passions for becoming life long learners." 

She has blossomed into one of the best teachers in the state.

"Teaching is a not just a job, but who I am. I am excited to be spending the next year traveling the state of Kansas and meeting the faces of education in Kansas," Nagel said. 

Other semifinalists were Marlys I. Gwaltney, an elementary physical education teacher at Bentley Primary School (Halstead USD 440); Sarah C. VenJohn, a high school mathematics teacher at Winfield High School (Winfield USD 465); Catherine “Cathy” L. Boote, a kindergarten teacher at Christa McAuliffe Academy in Wichita (Wichita USD 259); Andrea M. Burnett, a sixth-grade English language arts teacher at Maize South Middle School in Wichita (Maize USD 266); and Thomas “Tom” J. Zerr, a middle school science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teacher at Augusta Middle School (Augusta USD 402).

Nominations are made in each of four regions in the state. The Kansas State Department of Education, sponsor of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program, appoints regional selection panels comprised of teachers, education administrators and higher education representatives to select semifinalists and finalists from each region.

Each panel selects six semifinalists — three elementary teachers and three secondary teachers. From those semifinalists, the panel in each region then selects one elementary finalist and one secondary finalist. The Kansas Teacher of the Year is selected from among the state’s eight regional finalists.

The mission of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program is to build and utilize a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance and the teaching profession.

The Kansas Teacher of the Year team, comprised of the Teacher of the Year and state finalists, serve as ambassadors for education in Kansas, making public appearances across the state promoting education and the teaching profession.

The individual selected as the Kansas Teacher of the Year is eligible for national distinction as National Teacher of the Year.

The National Teacher of the Year program is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with the Voya Foundation.