Jessica Wheeler Saum ’08 is another former Falcon continuing to make headlines in education. She spent last year busy as the 2022 Teacher of the Year for the state of Arkansas. We originally highlighted Jessica when she was the Cabot, Arkansas Public School Teacher of the Year, and had just received the State honor.
As a public school teacher and a Christian, Jessica believes she has an obligation to be different. If she has a heart full of joy, it can’t help but shine through creating a positive classroom environment for her students. In the early days of her career, she found it challenging to deal with students’ difficult behavior and tough days. Her mother encouraged her to pray each morning over the school day. Since then, she has prioritized praying for her students’ well-being and their families’ safety before starting her day.
Jessica is driven to positively impact students’ lives and ensure that teachers’ perspectives are valued. She recognizes that education can alter the course of a child’s life, especially in the face of teacher shortages. Schools can provide a haven for children, and teachers have the power to instill confidence in their students. Although being a classroom teacher is not without difficulties, Jessica believes it’s well worth it to invest in the future and that the most important things in life are often the most challenging.
Being named Arkansas Teacher of the Year is a great honor and responsibility, and the journey to achieve this title was long. Jessica first earned the title at the “building” level, then was selected from schools in the district and the region, and finally advanced to the top four in the state, ultimately earning the final title. This role brought many exciting opportunities for personal and professional growth throughout the year.
Jessica built an impressive list of experiences in this prestigious role. Among these were three trips to the White House and meeting three presidents. She spoke with senators and legislators as an advocate for teachers and the profession and used the platform to “champion joyful teaching and inclusive practices for students who receive special education services.” There were many opportunities to serve educators in Arkansas as she led and created professional development courses and teacher training events, published op-eds, attended Space Camp for Educators, and created over 30 episodes for Arkansas PBS Rise and Shine program, starring in many. Spending time with students and learning from innovative teachers across the state highlighted an exciting year.
During Jessica’s time at Ben Lippen, she was involved in the theater program and a proud member of the indefatigable Super Fans. She cherishes the sense of community and the bonding opportunities that came with being a Falcon, and she’s especially grateful for the support and encouragement from her beloved Bible teacher, Mr. Angstadt. Jessica remembers how Mr. A fostered critical thinking skills and genuinely cared for his students’ well-being, qualities she strived to embody as a classroom teacher.
While her busy year as Arkansas Teacher of the Year has ended, her advocacy for special education and support for teachers continues. Jessica is excited to return to Cabot Public Schools to serve as the Collaboration and Inclusion Coordinator.
Jessica also enjoys a unique hobby outside of her educational pursuits: skating for Team Arkansas in Roller Derby. When she’s not busy setting up a “Truck and Trailer” or “Getting a Goat,” she spends time with her husband Steve, a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, and their two children, Tucker (11) and Magnolia (10).