Regional teacher of the year reconnects with her first graduating class

ASHLAND, Ore.– Last week, we brought you the story of an Ashland kindergarten teacher who has been named teacher of the year in southern Oregon.

On Friday, the first class she ever taught graduated high school. But before doing so, they walked through the halls of Helman Elementary School one more time.

Tia McLean, who has been teaching for 13 years at Helman, made sure she and her class were there to greet them all. But while her interactions with each student were heartfelt, one girl’s story touched Tia and validated what it means to be a teacher.

18-year-old Link Zea moved to Ashland from Arizona in the first grade. She says if it wasn’t for Tia, her life through those first couple years would have been very different.

“It definitely would have been a lot worse if Tia didn’t help cement my place here,” said Zea. “I feel like she really tried to push in the fact that we were a part of this family now and that we belonged here.”

Her programs and teaching methods have since been recognized by the state as she received a regional Oregon Teacher of the Year award. But Tia says it’s not just her, it’s a whole faculty and school that have made this achievement possible.

“Group success. It speaks to the teamwork that we all share and the love that we all have for the students that we get to work with,” said McLean.

To Tia, that love is what it means to be a teacher. No matter the age, they’ll always be her students and the bond they share will last a lifetime.

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