Mrs. Wilcox: District Teacher of the Year

Posted on 04/25/2019
Rachael Wilcox and fourth grader Avery M. Payne

By Independence fourth grader Avery M. Payne

Teacher of the Year Rachael Wilcox didn’t always want to be a teacher. She actually wanted to be an actress. Mrs. Wilcox was in high school when she told her mom, “I’m just not going to be a teacher. They have to work too hard. I’m going to be an actress. I want to get an Academy Award.”

Now, Mrs. Wilcox was a very determined young lady. If you said “No!” to her, she would think, “Okay, I’m going to do it.” So she was very determined to win this award.

Mrs. Wilcox was in drama club during her years in high school and starred in a lot of plays. At the end of the school year the drama club had an awards ceremony. She was recognized for her acting, so Mrs. Wilcox had received her version of the Academy Award!

Her mother, Kimberly Ostertag, said, “I think maybe at that point, she thought, ‘Well, I got my award, now I can be a teacher.’”

Mrs. Wilcox spent her childhood in the Francis Howell community. She went to John Weldon, Francis Howell Middle School, and Francis Howell High School. She didn’t go to Independence Elementary as a child because it didn’t exist, but she did have a connection. Her mother worked here as a kindergarten teacher when it opened. Mrs. Wilcox said she helped at Independence a lot. “When I was 11 years old I was moving boxes around this building, helping them unpack to get ready for the very first students at Independence!” she said.

After it opened Mrs. Wilcox was always very involved with school activities. Ms. Ostertag said, “She used to come up here and volunteer. If we had a PTO meeting, she would come and watch kids so parents could go to the meeting without kids.”

She struggled as a child in reading, writing, and spelling. Michele Macke, who is like a aunt to Mrs. Wilcox, said, “For her to be a teacher now and looking back at how hard she had to work, and that she became successful...that shows me that anyone can be anything that they want to be.”

Mrs. Wilcox believes that's true for her kids as well. Asked why they work so hard for her, Mrs. Wilcox smiled and said, “On Friday we dance. And that becomes a standout point. But they work for me all week long and I give them a few songs to dance to at the end of the week, and I think that’s a good trade off.”

Mrs. Wilcox is living proof of how so many special moments can happen while at a school. Take her engagement for example. Before working as a teacher Mrs. Wilcox worked at the before and after school program at Independence, Vacation Station. There she met Pat Wilcox, whom the kids called Mr. Pat. He said, “There was no doubt she wanted to be a teacher. First of all, you could see it just by how she worked with students at Vacation Station. She was a natural at what she did. She loved working with students.”

Mr. Pat and Mrs. Wilcox had many similar interests. During the months they spent together the two people found themselves falling in love.

After a while Mr. Pat decided to ask Mrs. Wilcox the question of a lifetime. It’s a simple four-word question, but it’s also one of the most important questions in the world. So Mr. Pat decided because of their love of kids that the magic moment should take place at school. Mr. Pat asked about 70 kids to make signs that spelled out WILL YOU MARRY ME?

Mr. Pat asked Independence Elementary Principal Emily Pavia to help out, and she called Mrs. Wilcox into work saying they had a meeting. That was very smart on her part, because Mrs. Wilcox dressed nicely (she wasn't a teacher yet). During the meeting there turned out to be a “situation” in the gym and they needed Mrs. Wilcox to come down to fix it.

When Mrs. Wilcox got down there she was greeted by the kids holding up the signs and a smiling Mr. Pat down on one knee. After a moment of shock, she replied, “Yes!” And they were married a few months later.

Many peers of Mrs. Wilcox have said she’s a little silly -- and she is. Even how she got the job at Independence is a little silly. Mrs. Wilcox had been working at summer school for kindergarteners and Mrs. Pavia had been looking for a special education teacher. Mrs. Pavia wanted Mrs. Wilcox to work at Independence so badly that she decided to go to the school to interview her.

Ms. Krista Klostermann was working as the summer school principal that day and she said, “Okay, you’re going to have an interview in half an hour. Mrs. Pavia is on her way to interview you right now.”

And Mrs. Wilcox was like “AHH! I don’t have anything ready!!!” Because she had literally nothing there to show. And to top it off, Mrs. Wilcox was wearing a Cardinals jersey and had braided pigtails (and usually you want to wear something nice to an interview). “I was thinking should I take my pigtails out or should I leave them in?” said Mrs. Wilcox, “Well keeping them in is more my style, and I got that job the same day!”

From her dedication to teaching and inspiring each and every one of her students, to keeping up with and supporting students that have been out of her classroom for years (like attending the hockey game of a former student), Mrs. Wilcox is the ultimate teacher. She wants all of her students to succeed in life.

With this mission in mind she filled out a form for the Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Wilcox said that when she was writing the entry she called it “the losing entry.” She really never expected to win, so it came to her as a great surprise. “When I wrote my application this year I did not write with the intent to win,” Mrs. Wilcox said, “I wrote it with the intent of teaching other people the importance of teaching the whole child. I believe that being kind is something we need to teach kids.”

And because of her story, Rachael Wilcox has proven she is the right person to do just that.

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