UM-Flint graduate student Wakefield named 2024-25 Region 5 Teacher of the Year

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"I don't think teaching is only about the curriculum or test scores — it's also about helping students see what I see in them: unlimited potential," said Sasha Wakefield, who teaches math and statistics at Clio High School. Wakefield is pursuing her education specialist degree at the University of Michigan-Flint and was recently named 2024-25 Teacher of the Year for Region 5, which is composed of the Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District, Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District, Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District, Midland County Educational Service Agency and the Saginaw Intermediate School District.

Logo for the Regional Teacher of the Year

"After I was nominated, I had to submit a lot of materials in support, and I was staying up late on nights and weekends to do so," Wakefield said. "I saw this experience as a learning opportunity for my students — how do you set and work toward goals throughout your life? 

"I remember coming in one Monday morning and sharing with them that I'd worked all weekend on this project, and they were just stunned. They wondered why I would put in all that effort if it wasn't a sure thing. Wouldn't I be disappointed? I told them that while I would be, the experience of collecting evidence and thinking through some of the questions was invaluable — that experience was worth it regardless of the outcome. I had put everything into it, and that, in itself, is something to be proud of."

Wakefield's journey to becoming a teacher wasn't as linear as some. She had her first child at 16 and attended six high schools before graduating. By age 20, she was a mother of two.

"It was really difficult because I often felt prejudged and as if my destiny had been predetermined," she said. "I struggled to connect with my teachers and to make it through high school — but I did!" 

After graduating high school, she continued her studies at Mott Community College. One of her aunts, a special education teacher, advised her to consider working as a paraprofessional.

"She told me they needed parapros, so I started working at Flint Northwestern (High School)," said Wakefield. "I fell in love with teaching, and that helped shape the journey that I'm on today."

As a young working mother, Wakefield took courses at various colleges and universities — wherever she could find the classes she needed that fit her busy schedule. While she didn't get her undergraduate degree from UM-Flint, she took several math courses at the downtown campus as she worked toward completing her bachelor's degree, which she did in 2010. Shortly thereafter, Wakefield began teaching at Clio High School.

She values lifelong learning and considers it one of the core competencies she instills in her students.

"Honestly, I get frustrated sometimes when I meet adults, and they tell me that math is unnecessary and that they've never used anything they learned," Wakefield said. "It's like they missed the entire point, which bums me out. Learning math and statistics — a lot of it is about learning how to analyze data, think critically and problem-solve. These are crucial skills, and we use them all the time — whether we realize it or not."

With her recent recognition as 2024-25 Teacher of the Year for Region 5, Wakefield sees that her approach to education and commitment to her students is working.

"It's such a fantastic honor — especially as someone who graduated from an alternative high school because I had to find a school to let me bring my infant son with me," said Wakefield. "I think my personal experiences help me show up for my students in a different way — I know how damaging it can be to judge a book simply by its cover."

As part of her duties, Wakefield will join other regional Teachers of the Year and Kelley Cusmano, the recently named Michigan Teacher of the Year, to form the Michigan Leadership Teacher Council. The council will begin meeting in July to discuss and determine its priorities for the coming year, and an induction ceremony will take place during the state school board meeting in August.

"The other regional Teachers of the Year will rotate and join Kelley during the monthly state school board meetings, so I'm excited to experience that," she said. "I'm going to volunteer for absolutely everything possible! This is my opportunity to advocate even more for my region's educational needs and to bring the student's voice to the state level whenever possible."

Wakefield will also continue her studies at UM-Flint. She is on track to graduate with her education specialist degree in 2025.

"I had phenomenal experiences with the faculty when I took classes as part of my undergraduate degree in 2008-09, so returning for my graduate degree was an easy decision," Wakefield said. "Given the demands on my time as a full-time high school teacher and now my role as a regional Teacher of the Year, the fact that the Ed.S program is fully online is essential.

"But just because it's online doesn't make the experience any less enriching. My cohort includes teachers from all over the state, and we've quickly bonded, learning as much from each other as we do from our class work."

Social media post featuring three women, two receiving awards. The text reads: Congratulations to Dr. Becky Mann of Hope College, Sasha Wakefield of Clio, and Elizabeth TerHaar of Saugatuck Public Schools for receiving Distinguished Service Awards in Gifted at the Ottowa Area ISD Conference on Monday!

In addition to receiving state recognition, Wakefield was honored by the Michigan Association for Gifted Children with a Distinguished Service Award and by the Clio Chamber of Commerce as Educator of the Year.

"When you become a teacher, you immerse your whole life into the community — after all, we're all in this together. So, I'm constantly asking myself how I can better support students. How can I help create an environment where they can learn more?" said Wakefield. "It is an absolutely awesome time to be a teacher; it truly is. I can't recommend it more. The students are amazing, and it's a joy to go to work every day when you're passionate about what you do. 

"I love showing students the beauty of numbers and connecting the math they learn with the world around them. Teachers help create more equity in the world every day. Seriously — I love this job so much, I'd do it for free."

Kat Oak is the communications specialist for the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education. She can be reached via email at [email protected].