He has gone from paraprofessional to Kansas Master Teacher nominee.

Justin Heeke, seventh-grade physical education teacher at Comanche Middle School in Dodge City, was recently nominated by Dodge City Public Schools for the 2020-21 Kansas Master Teacher of the Year.

Presented annually to teachers "who have served the profession long and well and who typify the good qualities of earnest and conscientious teachers," the Kansas Master Teacher awards were established in 1954 by Emporia State University.

A selection of seven award recipients is made by an award selection committee at the start of each calendar year.

The awards ceremony will be held as part of Kansas Master Teacher Day on April 1, 2020.

Heeke began his career with Dodge City Public Schools as a substitute teacher then went on to be a paraprofessional in 2010. He went on be a fifth-grade teacher at Miller Elementary in 2014 before joining the staff at Comanche Middle School in 2017.

"It is an honor to be chosen to represent USD 443 as the Kansas Master Teacher nominee," Heeke said. "It truly is humbling to know that people believe that I am worthy of the nomination."

When Heeke was told of his nomination, he said, the process of reflection began about what it took to get to this point in his life and career as an educator.

"I would not be the educator I have grown into without help of my friends, family and my teachers," Heeke said. "I was not the best student.

"Despite that, my teachers were able to provide the foundation I needed for me to grow and get here.

"My friends have been with me through some of my hardest times and have always stepped up to do anything they could to help my family when we needed it."

In speaking of Heeke, Comanche Middle School principal Rachael Pitchford said, "We are very proud to have Mr. Heeke on staff. He works diligently to impact students each day positively."

Heeke attributes his success from the support given to him through his family.

"My family is the reason I persisted in getting my education to become a teacher," he said. "My family has been my biggest supporters.

"My dad has always modeled what can be achieved through hard work and dedication. My in-laws have provided support and guidance every step of the way and my wife is my rock, my friend and my confidante.

"She is my biggest supporter and is the one that I seek for advice. She makes me a better educator."

Heeke was thankful for the early opportunities given to him by his colleagues.

"Joyce Warshaw gave me my first job as a para at Miller Elementary and supported me while I worked on my teaching certificate," Heeke said. "Justin Briggs took a chance on me as a relative unknown to be a coach at Comanche Middle School.

"The staff at Miller Elementary school supported me as a new teacher and made my first few years much easier than they probably should have been for a new teacher."

Heeke said his road to becoming a teacher wasn't a straight path.

"It was not always clear that would be my destination," he said. "However, I am certain that I am right where I am supposed to be."


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To send inquiries about possible positive news stories, email managing editor Vincent Marshall at vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com.