More than two hours after Jessica Eschbach had learned she was the 2021 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, she was still stunned.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced that Eschbach had received the honor during a virtual ceremony Thursday morning. At a press conference at Norman North later that afternoon, she was still in disbelief that she had been chosen.
“I’m not sure surprised is enough of a word for it,” Eschbach said. “I was pretty certain that I did not stand a chance because [of the other finalists] — they are truly masters at what they do. I was in awe of them and their talents and their stories from the first time we got to meet on Zoom. I would’ve been proud to have any of them represent me. So the surprise was legitimate and I’m still a little bit in shock. I’m incredibly humbled and grateful, but definitely in shock.”
Eschbach was selected last year as the 2020 Teacher of the Year for Norman Public Schools, and was named as one of the 12 finalists for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year last month. Eschbach has been with Norman Public Schools for all seven years of her teaching career, and currently serves as Norman North’s innovation learning coach.
She started her teaching career at Alcott Middle School as a social studies and english teacher for five years, and also spent two years as a teacher-librarian at Kennedy Elementary school.
“Through her entire career here at Norman, Jessica has exemplified what it’s like to be not only a great teacher, but also a leader of teachers,” NPS superintendent Nick Migliorino said. “That is a quality that we hope to instill into all of our teachers. Because at the end of the day, all students deserve the best.”
During the press conference, Google and Girl Scouts Western Oklahoma also surprised Eschbach with 2,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, which was delivered in a 15-passenger van that was nearly overflowing with treats. Proceeds from the cookies will go to local Girl Scout troops to support innovative learning opportunities for girls, Google head of data center community development Andrew Silvestri said.
“We’re proud to honor a teacher who is on a mission to help other teachers, students and an entire school district, and innovate at a time when innovation is critical,” Shannon Evers, GSWO chief executive officer, said of Eschbach.
Eschbach will assume her teacher of the year duties on July 1, which include speaking engagements and encouraging others to enter or remain in the profession, according to a press release.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said she is excited Eschbach will represent the state as one of its best teachers, and that Eschbach has excelled in her role at Norman North as the innovation learning coach.
“Jessica understands that the world of instruction is constantly updating to reflect new research, and she strives to help students, families and fellow teachers to adapt to technology and new ways of learning,” Hofmeister said. “She embraces innovative strategies that aim to reach schoolchildren where they are and stands out as a leader among educators.”
After nearly a decade of education experience, Eschbach said it’s difficult to pinpoint her favorite aspect of being a teacher.
“Trying to pick my favorite thing about teaching is like trying to pick my favorite student,” Eschbach said. “It gives me purpose. I feel like teachers really, truly can make a difference in somebody’s life, and I don’t know if many professions can say the same thing, and [students] also make a difference in my life. Watching students flourish and feel like they can be successful, and to know that I believe in them, it’s the best thing in the world.”
Eschbach ended the press conference by expressing her passion for teaching and her focus on continuing her career in Oklahoma.
“I just want to thank everybody at Norman Public Schools. Dr. Migliorino, thank you for believing in me… This is an incredible honor and one that I never expected. I’m kind of living a dream come true right now. I just want to make Oklahoma proud because I know everyone’s doing their best at a time when it’s difficult to even put one foot in front of the other, and I just want to do my best for every kid and every teacher in this great state.”