Tue, Oct. 22

‘Simply a good person' -- 20-year mathematics instructor Craig Mai named Teacher of the Year

On April 27 at the Yavapai County Teacher of the Year awards banquet, Mingus Union mathematics teacher Craig Mai was named the 2018 Teacher of the Year. (Photo by Bill Helm)

On April 27 at the Yavapai County Teacher of the Year awards banquet, Mingus Union mathematics teacher Craig Mai was named the 2018 Teacher of the Year. (Photo by Bill Helm)

COTTONWOOD – For the second time in three years, Mingus Union High School can boast the county’s Teacher of the Year.

It was two decades ago that Craig Mai was about to become a rookie in the classroom. Having wanted to become an engineer, Mai spent four years in his initial endeavor before he realized that the career sounded better than it really was.

As a student, Mai was first told that being an educator might be his best course of action.

He recalls that at the time, he laughed off the idea.

Although he strives to make math enjoyable, Mai finds ways to make mathematics anything but a laughing matter.

“I try to provide my students with a comfortable classroom and show them that math can be fun,” said Mai, just about ready to finish his 20th year in the classroom.

Mai strives to empower his students by conquering a subject that doesn’t leave room for interpretation.

“My goal then is for them to become more confident in their mathematical skills and become better problem solvers,” he said. “But just as important, if not more, I want my students to value and understand the importance of their own education.”

Mai ‘makes Mingus better every day’

Two years ago, Mike Westcott was named Teacher of the Year by the Yavapai County Education Foundation. This year, Mingus Union first-year principal Genie Gee had the privilege of nominating Mai, who was recognized on April 27 as Yavapai County Teacher of the Year at the annual Yavapai County Teacher of the Year banquet.

In her nomination letter, Gee stated that Mai is someone “who makes you want to be a little bit better than you were yesterday.”

“I can think of many positive adjectives to describe Craig … but what most of us really think about Craig is that he is simply a good person,” the letter states. “He’s a really good person in a world where good can be hard to find. I am thankful for the role-model that he is, not only for our students, but for new professionals entering the field. Craig takes pride in his profession and makes Mingus better every day.”

Honored, humbled

Besides teaching mathematics at Mingus Union, Mai serves on Faculty Council and is a member of the AVID implementation team – Advancement Via Individual Determination – as well as the Mingus Union Education Association.

“Many of Craig’s colleagues seek him out for instructional and professional advice,” Gee said.

Working the mathematical side of his brain, Mai uses logic and reason to solve problems and he “always has a kind and encouraging word for all of us,” Gee said.

“Truly honored and humbled” to be named Teacher of the Year for 2018, Mai said he hopes the award helps advance “the community’s confidence in Mingus being an outstanding school to send their students.”

“I am just one of many dedicated teachers, support personnel, counselors, and administrators,” he said. “There are so many amazing teachers at our school and around the county, so just to be nominated was an honor. To actually be selected as Teacher of the Year is beyond anything that I could have hoped.”

About Craig Mai

Mai teaches AP Calculus, Precalculus, and Algebra 2, as well as physics. 

When he’s not crunching numbers, Mai is Mingus Union’s varsity golf coach, freshmen boys basketball coach and a member of the AIA Golf Advisory Committee.

Before he moved to the classroom, Mai was an engineer with AT&T.

With a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Kansas State University, Mai accepted a buy-out from AT&T to return to the classroom – as a student – to earn his teaching certificate at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. 

Mai recently completed his master’s degree in mathematics education from Western Governors University.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

More accolades for Verde Valley teachers


Yavapai County Education Foundation

What a mixed week this was for our teachers. On the one hand, many joined the unprecedented state-wide action of closing schools to gain the attention of elected officials regarding our funding issues.

At the same time, we were in the process of celebrating the many outstanding teachers in our county. Both events demonstrate how much we care about the quality of education.

The Yavapai County Teacher of the Year awards banquet was held in Prescott on April 27. Awards were given to finalists in five categories, with one of the nominees being awarded Teacher of the Year. A hearty congratulations goes to Craig Mai of Mingus Union High School for being the overall winner.

Mr. Mai is an outstanding teacher who somehow makes it fun to learn math! This year he is teaching Algebra 2, Pre-calculus, AP Calculus, and Physics. I hope the reader can take a moment to think about the amount of time that goes into teaching these classes.

The class time requires good performance on the part of the teacher, but dedication is what it takes to put in the hours to prepare lessons that make the subject interesting and understandable.

Shelly Zale, a Cross-Grades Specialist teacher at Dr. Daniel Bright School, is to be applauded for being a finalist for the Teacher of the Year award.

Frank Marston, Cottonwood Middle School, was a finalist in the 6th-8th category. In the Outstanding First-year Teacher category, Travis Black from VACTE was recognized, along with Margaret McFarland from Verde Valley Christian School, Molly Wescott from Mingus Union, and Hande Tufte from Cottonwood Elementary.

In the K-5 category, we recognized Deb Goepfrich from Beaver Creek Elementary, Kathleen Jensen from Cottonwood Elementary, Lesley Lang from Dr. Daniel Bright Elementary, Elizabeth Scott from Clarkdale-Jerome, Mindy Zarlingo, West Sedona and Betsy Midkiff from Verde Valley Christian.

Those recognized in the Cross-Grades K-8th Specialists Category were Nicole Barrier from Cottonwood Elementary, Laura Norman from Camp Verde, Cynthia Ramirez from Big Park Community School, and Ashley Ziebell from Cottonwood Middle School.

The Cross-Grades 9th-12th Specialist Category was represented by Chad Scott from Mingus Union.

The teachers listed were first recommended by their school administrators. They were then challenged to share their passion for teaching, in written form, for groups of volunteer readers.

Three finalists in each category were then interviewed by a committee followed by a short video on their philosophy of teaching. Another entertaining video featured students who shared why their teacher should be recognized as Teacher of the Year.

The Yavapai County Education Foundation takes very seriously the process of recognizing the outstanding contributions that teachers make to our communities.

I hope that, with all the emphasis on teachers recently in the media, the community will take time to appreciate the devotion, enthusiasm, and commitment given by our educators to their students and their profession.

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