When Brianna Ross (BS ’14, MEd ’15) thinks of her personal model for teaching excellence, she looks no further than her own kindergarten teacher: Ms. Caruthers.
“I was the only Black girl in my class, and she was one of the only Black teachers I ever had,” recalls Ross, who grew up in the Philadelphia area. “I don’t remember what I learned. I just remember how I felt in her classroom. I remember feeling loved. And I remember that she set very high expectations for us in kindergarten.”
Since earning her teaching degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, Ross has followed a similar teaching philosophy with her students. For the past three years, she has taught history and social studies at the Deer Park Middle Magnet School in Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland. She is also the school’s social studies department chair, equity liaison, and summer transition program coordinator.
In October, Ross received her state’s highest honor for teachers, the Maryland 2021-2022 Teacher of the Year Award. Her Baltimore County school system is the 25th largest in the United States, with more than 110,000 students and approximately 175 schools, centers, and programs.
Ross will go on to complete for the National Teacher of the Year Award, which will be announced in April 2022.
A Strong Foundation from Pitt Education
Ross is a 2014 graduate of the Combined Accelerated Studies in Education (CASE) program at Pitt Education. Through the five-year program, she earned a Bachelor of Science in applied developmental psychology, a Master of Education in special education, and fulfilled the requirements for the Pennsylvania preK-4 general education and preK-8 special education teacher certifications.
“How can you beat that experience? A five-year program where you can also earn your master’s. I had an awesome cohort and loved living in Pittsburgh,” says Ross.
The teacher preparation faculty at Pitt Education are not surprised that Ross is excelling as an educator.
“She was the student whose writing and comments in class discussions made you stop and think deeply about how best to prepare pre-service teachers,” says Anna Arlotta-Guererro, associate professor and director of the CASE program at Pitt Education. “I will always remember when one of her fellow students said to me, ‘Being in a cohort with Bri has made me more prepared to be an effective teacher!’”
Michelle Sobolak, associate professor and director of Teacher and Professional Education at Pitt Education, remembers Ross for being a teacher who was focused on providing all students with an equitable, high-quality education.
“Brianna Ross exemplifies the type of teacher that all students deserve,” says Sobolak.
Amy Srsic, an assistant professor at Pitt Education, remembers Ross as an educator who was fiercely committed to cultivating the intellectual curiosity of her students.
“It is just thrilling to learn that Bri’s commitment to developing relationships that support her students in breaking barriers and achieving academic excellence has been noticed and is being openly recognized,” says Srsic.
Leading Classrooms During a Challenging Year
While it is satisfying on a personal level to receive the teaching award, Ross admits that the past academic year has been incredibly difficult for her and her students due to the pandemic and the national reckoning on racial injustice.
Ross has approached this situation by aiming to understand and empathetically respond to the experiences of her students, the vast majority of which are Black or Latinx.
“I believe that teaching is the profession to restore humanity,” says Ross. “Teaching history gives us a great place to restore the sense of agency in our kids and to help them advocate for change in their lives.”
Ross is earning her doctorate of urban educational leadership at Morgan State University in Baltimore and aspires to work in school administration someday.
Ross will continue to instill the values that she learned in kindergarten from her teacher, Miss Caruthers.
“I want my kids to know they are loved. Our work should be grounded in love 100% of the time,” says Ross.
The Combined Accelerated Studies in Education (CASE) program is a five-year program in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education that provides students with an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree in special education, and teaching certification.
Watch a video from Baltimore County Schools about Brianna Ross receiving the 2020-21 Teacher of the Year Award.