Each year Teachers College (TC) honors a few of our outstanding alumni with awards that celebrate the impact that they have on their community, field, and the TC family.
Kiah Penfield – Teachers College Young Alumni Award Winner
Kiah Penfield is a recipient of a Teachers College Young Alumni Award. She graduated from Ball State in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education and Special Education. In 2020 she received the New High School Teacher of the Year from Washington Connections Academy, where she taught high school English after receiving a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Western Governors University. In 2021 she earned a graduate certificate in Applied Educational Neuroscience from Butler University.
What made you pursue a degree in education?
I’ve known since second grade that I wanted to teach. I love seeing the lightbulb moment when a student reaches an understanding that previously eluded them. I also have struggled a lot with mental illness throughout my adolescence and adult life, and I have always wanted to help raise awareness of mental health and illness in the classroom.
What made you choose Ball State?
The stellar program with the Indiana School for the Deaf and focus on bilingual–bicultural philosophy in Deaf Ed. I chose Ball State without ever touring the campus solely for the practicing opportunities.
Do you have a favorite part of your time at Ball State? What do you look back on and remember fondly?
My favorite memories are my practicum experiences, Unity Week, the Tunnel of Oppression, and the tight-knit community of our Deaf Ed cohort.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your time at Ball State? Any fun projects you worked on? Favorite class/professor/experience?
Favorite professors: Jeff Choate, Dr. Richard Neel, Dr. Penny Craig, and Marie Kellam-White.
Projects: I led a booth at the Tunnel of Oppression, was an officer for the Secular Student Alliance, and was part of the Facing Project on Depression.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out at Ball State?
Give yourself some compassion. You’re an adult, but you’re a brand new adult and a lot of things are going to be very hard. Find a spot on campus that brings you peace and/or joy. Sit there when things are overwhelming and just breathe. If it’s too much to take things a day at a time, take things an hour at a time.
What has your career path been like so far?
After Ball State, I worked at an escape room while I got my Master’s and transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment. I met my wife there while working dressed as Cindy Lou Who. After grad school, I worked as a substitute in my local district until I found a position teaching online as a 12th grade English teacher. At that school, I helped create an LGBTQ+ club in the high school and took lead over the credit recovery program. I was also named “New Teacher of the Year” for the 2020-2021 school year.
Your current position:
I currently work as a middle school teacher in Darrington, WA. I currently teach 6th grade math, 7/8th science, and a health/PE class. Next semester I will trade science for 7th grade English. In my position, I have been able to bring in a week-long mental health unit in coordination with our counseling team. This unit has helped several students identify that they are having mental health struggles, and many learn that they are not alone in their struggles. I truly enjoy being able to work with my students and my entire teaching and admin team, and I feel very lucky to be there.
What is your favorite part of working in education?
Being a reliable and safe adult for students who are struggling in their personal and home lives, and being able to model that there is a future after mental illness. My second favorite part is finding fun ways to teach concepts that are unexpected and stick in my students’ memory.
Do you have any hobbies, or favorite things you do to relax that you would like to share?
I love embroidery and DIY projects, but I’ll get sucked into any craft you give me. I adore board games and games of any kind. I have an Etsy shop that sells handmade queer-friendly cards, Orpheus and Orion. I also volunteer with Camp Quest Northwest during the summers.
Fun fact about yourself:
I was able to give an update on the project that I started at Ball State when the Facing Project got a radio show on the episode “More Than My Illness.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am a neurodivergent and queer (asexual) teacher, and it is so important we make the invisible parts of our identities visible for our students. Both so that those who share our identities learn they are not alone, and so that those who do not learn that people with these identities exist and are just people—not some anonymous group that could be a threat.