There was never much of a question about what career path Kathleen M. Turner ’94 would follow. A child who brought home worksheets to play school with her friends, who lined up her stuffed animals for mock lessons, who even in summer liked to pretend she was in school, Turner dreamed of the day when she had her own classroom.
“I tell people sometimes that I didn’t become a teacher, I’ve always been one,” she said.
Deciding what she would teach didn’t take much longer. After her first French class in eighth grade, Turner went home and told her parents, “I’m going to teach French.”
Turner not only achieved her dream, by all accounts has excelled at it. Last month, the Sharon High School French teacher was named the 2013 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year by Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester — the state’s top honor for educators.
“Massachusetts educators are well represented by Kathleen Turner, who through her leadership and exceptional teaching provides students with a well-rounded education that enriches their lives and prepares them for success beyond high school,” Chester said in a statement.
A native of Northbridge, Mass., neither of Turner’s parents attended a four-year university. She didn’t think much about college until a high school guidance counselor suggested she set her sights on the Ivy League.
“I applied to Harvard because it was closest to home,” she said. “When I got in, I was like ‘this is crazy.’”
While at Harvard, Turner found her niche, rooming with a fellow aspiring teacher and forming a circle of friends that included future educators. After graduation, she was hired at Sharon High School. But despite her resolve, teaching was a bit more difficult than she’d thought.
“Not every smart person from Harvard can be a good teacher,” she said. “There are so many things beyond school that influence what happens in a student’s life, and sometimes with everything else going on, learning French is not at the top a student’s list.”
Turner said she’s worked hard to make herself a part of the school community- chaperoning dances, organizing French exchange programs, advising student council and attending sports games. Making connections beyond the classroom has been key in motivating her students to succeed, she said.
Still over the years many have questioned her on why someone with a Harvard degree would go into education.
“People say things like, ‘Wow, you went to Harvard and could have done so many other things. Why teaching?’ ” she said. “In my mind, teachers are the foundation of every other profession. We therefore need intelligent, passionate individuals in that role.”