Two teachers were honored at the annual Baylor University School of Education Senior Recognition Banquet in late April. Following tradition, Baylor School of Education seniors had the opportunity to nominate teachers who had been influential in their lives. Students submitted a nomination essay about their teacher, and the awarded educators were chosen by a Baylor faculty committee. During the awards banquet, the students honor their memorable educator by reading their essay.
For 2023, Katie Bohannon Phillips of Plano and Jenna Helduser Walling of Austin were honored with the Baylor School of Education’s “Most Memorable Teacher” award.
Katie Bohannon Phillips
Katie Bohannon Phillips was nominated by Baylor senior Marissa Chotiner. Phillips teaches fourth grade at Beverly Elementary School in Plano ISD. Phillips is a Baylor University School of Education graduate and has taught at Beverly Elementary for 14 years.
Chotiner wrote that, even as a fourth grader, she recognized Phillips as an amazing teacher because of her energy, creativity, and acceptance. “She would always listen to the stories I told her no matter how long they were,” Chotiner noted. As a struggling reader, fourth-grade Marissa was thrilled with the reward for reading 50 book pages one night — lunch with Mrs. Phillips!
Phillips’ creativity in the classroom included turning the entire room into a campsite — complete with tent, mountains, rocks, and a waterfall — for “S’More Success Writing Camp” to prepare students for state tests. And yes, there were actual s’mores.
Chotiner said Phillips inspired her aspiration to attend Baylor and become a teacher. The two stayed in touch; Chotiner helped Phillips set up her classroom each summer while dreaming of the day when she would have her own classroom. When Chotiner was accepted to Baylor, Philips was the first person she called.
“Katie is the teacher I aspire to be to all my students,” Chotiner said. “She makes all her students feel valued and loved. She supported me not only in the fun times of fourth grade, but also in the hard times beyond. Katie is not only my most memorable teacher, but she is also one of my most significant mentors and inspirations as an educator and a person.”
Phillips said, “Teaching has been a blessing in my life. My favorite part of my job is building relationships with my students and building a classroom community.” She advised Baylor’s graduating teachers to create an environment that is engaging, loving, caring, and “feels like a family with the mindset that when one succeeds, all of us succeed.”
Jenna Walling was nominated by Baylor senior Faith Stuchly; Walling was Stuchly’s dance team assistant director at Langham Creek High School in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in the Houston area for 2017-18. She now works in the Austin area with Capturing Kids’ Hearts as a professional development trainer. Between 2015 and 2021, Walling also coached dance at College Station High School. She is a graduate of Kilgore College and Texas A&M University.
Stuchly wrote that Walling exemplifies the qualities of a dedicated and charismatic educator, leader, and role model, noting, “She changed my view on life and on being an educator.” She said Walling helped her develop into a strong, confident leader. While all her teachers recognized her shyness, Stuchly noted, it was Walling who “dug deeper” and helped her grow.
When Walling announced she would be leaving after only one year, Stuchly was devastated. Before she left, Walling wrote a letter to each dancer, and Stuchly’s letter praised her quiet strength and ended with a prayer for her to be courageous and trust the value of her voice. Stuchly still keeps that letter nearby. “Whenever I lack confidence or am struggling in a leadership role, I read her words and remind myself of what she believed about me, as well as the qualities she displayed and taught me,” Stuchly said.
Walling said she loved teaching because of the opportunity to serve others. “Teaching is an opportunity to develop relationships and be a caring, positive influence in the life of someone else,” she said, noting the importance for teachers to develop trust with students. “When there is trust and safety involved, the potential of failure doesn’t feel as big, because a student knows they are still going to be loved at the end of the day,” she said.
At the banquet, Baylor SOE’s associate director of assessment and professional development, Lisa Osborne, pointed out to the crowd — filled with faculty, mentor teachers, and graduating seniors and their families — that Stuchly’s experience is a reminder of the powerful impact a teacher can have, even in one short year, when they recognize and nurture their students’ strengths.
For more than 100 years, the School of Education has advanced Baylor’s mission across the globe while preparing students for a range of careers focused on education, leadership, and human development. With more than 60 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation. Likewise, the School of Education’s graduate programs have attained national recognition for their exemplary preparation of research scholars, educational leaders, innovators, and clinicians. Visit www.baylor.edu/SOE to learn more.
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.