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Teacher of the Year Spotlight: Catherine Zelenski

You are invited to a reception and ceremony recognizing our 2018-2019 Site Teachers of the Year at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 13 at the Union Performing Arts Center. Union will also announce its District Teacher of the Year. Being named Teacher of the Year is one of the highest honors a teacher can receive at Union.

Originally posted February 8, 2019

Language arts teacher Catherine Zelenski was named the 8th Grade Teacher of the Year.

“I had thought about being a teacher since my childhood, but an event my junior year of high school solidified that idea,” Zelenski said. “My band director passed away in the middle of the school year. Marching band is like a family, and so the band director was an extremely important and influential person in my life. His funeral took place in the high school auditorium, and there were so many people that speakers and chairs had to be set up in the cafeteria for all the overflow. Students and faculty from that year and previous years were in attendance. Even though it was a tragic loss for us, it was amazing and heart-warming to see how one person had an effect on so many people. I wanted to be able to reach people like that, as well.”

Zelenski began teaching for Union in the fall of 2014.

“I had only decided to move to Tulsa in May, and was set on moving here even before I found a job,” she said. “When I was applying for schools in the area, Union stood out to me due to my interactions with Union from my high school band competitions. Union was always outstanding in those competitions, and I had never heard anything negative about the district. When I was offered the job, I accepted immediately. I even cancelled an interview with Broken Arrow because I was so sure Union was where I wanted to be. Within the first few days of new teacher orientation, I knew I found the district that I would retire in.  Union makes you feel like family.”

Her favorite subject to teach is a nonfiction unit which includes Anne Frank and the Holocaust.

“That topic is so broad, that every student can find interest in something,” Zelenski said. “No matter which area students are drawn to, I’m still able to teach them about nonfiction texts while also teaching them how important it is to be kind and respectful to one another. Above all things, I want my students to be good, caring people, so I try to sneak that into my curriculum often.”

The biggest obstacle she faces in the classroom is parental involvement and trying to make up for it.

“Too many students aren’t getting the support and structure they need in their personal lives, so we teachers need to do the best we can during the school day to help fill in those gaps,” Zelenski said. “I can’t make up for or replace everything a student has missed while growing up, but I will help where I can. Making my classroom a comfortable and safe place, being a reliable adult in their lives, and demonstrating respect and fairness to them are my first steps to overcoming this obstacle.”

When she looks to the future of her classroom and career, Zelenski sees a lot of change and growth.

“The world is changing so fast, and we have to embrace it,” she said  “I learn new strategies every year, and the district brings in more technology.  A student-driven, interactive, blended classroom will be the winning combination, so that is where I am heading. My classroom has grown so much over the years that I look forward to seeing what it will become.”

Educational background:

Bachelor’s degree in secondary English education from Oklahoma State University.


  • English grade 6-12
  • Middle Level/Intermediate Mathematics

Teaching experience:

  • Midwest City High School, Midwest City, Oklahoma: 12th grade language arts- Student Teaching
  • Del Crest Middle School, Del City, Oklahoma: 8th grade language arts- 3 years
  • Highland West Junior High, Moore, Oklahoma: 8th grade language arts- 2 years
  • Union 8th Grade Center, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma: 8th grade language arts- 5 years

Continuing Education: Recent trainings include:

  • Sense-sational Science - Middle School STEM initiative
  • Leadership Cadre
  • Echoes and Reflection Training (Holocaust lesson planning)
  • Max Training
  • College and Career Readiness Training