By Kimberly Crossland

Forty-one years ago, Liz Bradshaw arrived in Vail immediately after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980. At the time, she was the only third grade teacher in the Vail School District. Now, 41 years later, Liz Bradshaw is retiring after having experienced a multitude of changes with curriculum, administrations, teaching calendars, school boards, additional schools built, and having influenced hundreds of elementary school students. She has the distinction of being the longest serving employee for the district.

While the Vail School District was the only district she taught in, her life wasn’t as seamless as it might seem. In 1991, Bradshaw gave birth to her son Jacob. He was premature at 28 weeks, so for the next three years, she worked from home on a variety of projects such as coordinating a teacher incentive program and creating the district’s emergency manual. In 1994, she returned to teaching part time as a Gifted Education Elementary teacher before going back to full-time teaching in 1997.

Bradshaw was born with a passion to teach. While as a young student herself, she would beg her teachers for spare dittos, extra Weekly Readers, and broken red pencils. Using those extra items, she would go home and play teacher, transforming her bedroom into a classroom with dolls and stuffed animals as students.

Her love of teaching has yet to wane, despite retiring this year.

“Opening a fresh box of Crayola crayons still gives me the same sensory thrill as it did when I was seven years old,” Bradshaw said.

Over her 41 years inside the classroom, Bradshaw has watched technological advances soar, educational philosophies shift, and accountability increase. Educational buzz words have come and gone during her time, but one thing remained constant in her classrooms — her service to her students. She created a climate of trust where questions were encouraged. She was loyal to running a democratic classroom which promoted fairness and responsibility.

Her teaching style has led to a close relationship with her students. Over the years, she has worked tirelessly to challenge students, colleagues, and administration to think outside the box. Her goal in everything she did in the classroom was this — to foster mutual respect by establishing a trusting, nonjudgmental, productive learning environment.

The awards she received throughout her career reflect this commitment. She was a finalist in the US West Outstanding Teacher Program, 1991 Arizona Teacher of the Year, semi-finalist in the National Teachers Hall of Fame, and 2018 AZ Economic Education Teacher of the Year, to name a few of the accolades she earned.She also participated as a contributor to the Magic School Bus Out of This World: A Book About Space Rocks, presented at several AZ Gifted & Talented State Conferences, and for 25 years coordinated a 3 day/2 night student exchange program with Carbo, Mexico for Hands Across the Border.

The final lessons she wants her students to take with them is this: Everyone’s brain works differently, so be kind and helpful to others. Don’t shy away from challenging work, no whining that it is too hard. Say hello and look people in the eyes when passing or greeting them. Keep up with current events, you matter in the world. Ask for help when you need it. Be proud, yet modest of your special gifts and talents.

Kimberly Crossland is a mom, a Vail resident, and owner of The Focus-Driven Biz.

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