2024 Teacher of the Year Semi-Finalist Mariah Rucker


How you became an educator and anything you've learned along the way that has stuck with you.

I became an educator after witnessing the impact the pandemic had on students while tutoring part-time. Seeing these gaps motivated me to become a substitute teacher, and eventually led me to pursue a teaching career full-time. KIPP Jacksonville played a crucial role in making my transition smooth by helping me get certified and guiding me through a program that shaped me into the teacher I am today. One key lesson I've learned along the way is the importance of patience and understanding. The pandemic's effects on students are still evident, and my focus is on bridging the gaps and supporting each student in the classroom to help them succeed.

Your work as the mathematics content lead at your school.

As Content Lead for 8th grade Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 at KIPP Jacksonville, my role involves internalizing the Florida BEST standards and lessons to ensure the content I present aligns with these standards and engages students effectively. I lead our weekly content meetings, fostering collaboration among my colleagues as we analyze data, share best practices, and work together to provide the highest quality education for all students in our classrooms. I work closely with the Mathematics Specialist for the region, who supports me with any questions or challenges I encounter. I truly enjoy this role because it allows me to collaborate with other 8th grade math teachers in my region. Through these collaborations, I gain valuable insights into different teaching methods and strategies, which helps me continuously improve my practice. This role also provides me with opportunities to develop my leadership skills, which is a rewarding aspect of my work. 

The growth you've seen with your math students, and what contributed to that.

The growth I've seen with my math students has been truly inspiring, especially in terms of rebuilding their confidence and excitement for learning. The pandemic took away some of the joys of participating in class and receiving recognition for their hard work, but I've been fortunate to witness my students' spark return as they successfully work through problems and understand the material. One of the most rewarding moments is seeing my students regain their curiosity and passion for learning. It's heartening to watch them start dreaming big again and believe in their ability to achieve their goals. I've made a conscious effort to create a supportive environment where success feels attainable for them. What has contributed to this growth is my approach of being open, vulnerable, and knowledgeable with my students. By showing them that teachers are human and have emotions, I establish trust and rapport, which helps create a safe space for them to learn and grow. Additionally, staying well-versed in the content allows me to connect with all students in the room and provide targeted support when they need it most.

Going through the TOY process as an educator. 

Going through the Teacher of the Year (TOY) process as an educator was an unexpectedly enjoyable experience. It was my first year teaching independently after completing the Baker Teacher Fellowship, so I was both shocked and honored when I was nominated. Winning Teacher of the Year was an incredible feeling, though I never anticipated it. Attending the Duval County Teacher of the Year orientation was overwhelming, as I found myself surrounded by so many exceptional educators who had also been recognized for their work. It was an inspiring sight, but I also felt a sense of fear, as I questioned whether I truly deserved to be among such talented peers. When I was selected as one of the semi-finalists, I was overcome with emotion and even cried in front of my students. It was a deeply validating moment that showed me I was indeed capable and that my hard work was being acknowledged. Out of everyone, I was one of the 15 semi-finalists and the first teacher from my school to receive this recognition, making it a truly special and celebratory achievement. Looking back, the entire TOY process was a positive and transformative experience, one I would gladly go through again if given the opportunity.




of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.