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Sugar House Journal

Hawthorne Elementary teacher receives Outstanding Educator Award

Jul 12, 2021 15h05 ● By Lizzie Walie

For nearly two decades Marilyn Taft has taught elementary students, almost entirely at Hawthorne Elementary School. (Courtesy of Salt Lake City School District)

By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]

Marilyn Taft is the type of educator who parents adore, and children remember for the rest of their lives. Smart, intuitive, and acutely perceptive, she’s exactly the type of educator who should be molding the minds of today’s youth. 

On June 14, the Salt Lake City School District announced via their Facebook page that Taft had received this year’s Calvin W. Taylor Outstanding Educator Award. True to its namesake, the award honors teachers who significantly impact the lives of their students. If there were any questions about Taft’s influence on her students, the outpouring of adoration and accolades received on the Facebook post regarding her win, speaks for itself. Hundreds of people reacted to the announcement, with countless expressing admiration for the teacher.                                                                                                                                                                    Taft has been an educator for almost two decades, although, her journey into the field was rather unorthodox. Prior to getting involved in teaching, she received her MBA and took on a position at AT&T. “I worked for [them] for 14 years in their technical sales and marketing division,” she recalled. “I loved my previous job, but I don’t regret moving to education.” 

She left her position at AT&T to focus on raising her children. During that time, she would discover her passion for substitute teaching. As she continued to take on more responsibility in her role as a substitute, it became clear to those around her that she was a natural educator. Finally, she made the decision to start teaching permanently at the coaxing of a principal named Liz Grant. She found her home at Hawthorne Elementary School and has never looked back.

Taft is currently a fifth-grade Extended Learning Program teacher at Hawthorne. The Extended Learning Program is a Salt Lake City School District sanctioned initiative that brings together children from all across the district and streamlines them into one learning space.

“I have students who live clear past the airport and high up in the Avenues,” Taft said. “It’s a program for academically advanced children but also children who need a more specialized curriculum to be able to grow and develop in appropriate ways so that they can reach their potential too.” Taft came to know of the program as her own children had participated and found success through its structuring. As a firsthand witness to the benefits of Extended Learning, she was fully on board to try her hand as a teacher. 

In the years that followed, Taft’s love for teaching continued to develop and expand. “It’s a remarkable thing to be in a position to help empower students to grow and learn and help them understand that our biggest learning opportunities come when we make mistakes. That’s when our brains can grow and develop,” she said. This sentiment was perhaps never as relevant as it was last year during the peak of Covid-19. In a time where it would have been understandable to see students stumble, especially those who require an extra level of guidance, Taft was deeply inspired to witness her students’ resiliency. 

“[During Covid-19] the students were remarkable. I don’t think I’ve ever taught a finer class,” she said. “They were just amazing in every way.” 

The challenges of last year make Taft’s win of the Calvin W. Taylor Outstanding Educator Award all the more affecting. She was quick to give accolades to Hawthorne and the faculty that surrounds her. According to Taft, many teachers at the school have received the award in past years, which she finds hardly surprising. She said her colleagues and their contributions to the students makes Hawthorne an exceptional place for both learners and educators.

“An outstanding teacher is one who meets the needs of individual students, and helps them progress by their devotion, caring and creativity,” she said. “I think that outstanding teachers have incredible respect for the human beings that are in their classrooms.”