Good Life

Living Local: National High School Teacher of Excellence Kate Hoffman

Kate Hoffman instructs her AP English class at State College Area High School.
Kate Hoffman instructs her AP English class at State College Area High School. CDT photos

Kate Hoffman pointed to the back of her classroom at a bookshelf where she encourages students to grab reading material.

Her raised hand revealed a teapot tattoo on her right wrist, which pays tribute to one of her favorite books, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” a satirical novel about a soldier’s experiences in World War II.

Hoffman’s love for literature is probably what got her in a State High classroom in the first place. Her desire, however, to be the best English teacher she can is why faculty and students nominated her for the High School Teachers of Excellence Award through the National Council of Teachers of English.

“She’s an exceptional teacher, and I’ve known her since her internship here,” SCASD 7-12 English Coordinator Chris Merritt said. “I’ve seen her growth and development, and she’s a powerhouse when it comes to teaching. She really makes her classroom her lab and gets amazing results.”

She’ll be one of 16 teachers from around the country to accept the award at the council’s annual convention in Washington, D.C., Nov. 22.

Hoffman, however, credited her colleagues and students.

“I’m only as good a teacher as the people I work with and the students I have,” Hoffman said.

Her love of literacy can be traced back to a young age.

There is a picture of her when she was about 4 years old reading an “Alice in Wonderland” audiobook along with her family.

“And my library card was like a prized possession,” she said. “I used to ask the librarians how many books I could take, and they’d tell me as many as I could carry, so I got a lot stronger.”

Her hobby developed into a career.

“I love that every morning, I wake up, I’m excited to go to school,” Hoffman said. “I love that teaching English is about what it means to be human, and it’s not so much about grammar or commas. It’s about talking to students about how they exist in this world and how to use reading, writing, speaking and listening to live in this world.”

Hoffman tries to combine her students’ interests with class material.

“If I ask them to make a connection between a song and (“The Great) Gatsby,” they’ll have to choose a song to play in a scene of Gatsby and explain why they chose that song,” she said. “If you allow them to pull what they value and apply it to learning, that is a way for them to feel their ideas are valued in the classroom.”

To understand how much Hoffman loves to read, she doesn’t have cable in her house. She realized her time was better spent reading and enjoying other hobbies. She has read about 90 books so far this year.

Some of them are likely to end up on her classroom’s bookshelf.