By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Kearney High School business teacher Kaylei Becker calls her current position a “perfect fit.”
She enjoys every aspect of the job, which allows her to build meaningful relationships with students while preparing them for life after high school.
“I’m really passionate about business education,” Becker said. “I think it’s all very applicable, so I love the fact that I get to teach them real-world skills.”
In just her third year as an educator, Becker is already being recognized for her impact in the field. She was recently named the 2023 Rookie Teacher of the Year by the Nebraska State Business Education Association (NSBEA), an honor that solidifies her decision to change careers and return to the classroom.
“I feel like it really acknowledges the work that I’ve put in, because I’ve put in a lot of work,” she said with a laugh.
A Cozad native, Becker attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she was a member of the women’s golf team, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Collegiate and Beta Alpha Psi honor society.
Dead set on a career in accounting, she interned with UNK Athletics, focusing on the financial side, and graduated in spring 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an accounting minor.
“I really loved my time at UNK,” she said. “I had great relationships with all of my professors and there were a lot of opportunities to get involved. It ended up feeling like home by the time I was done.”
After graduation, Becker worked in accounting for more than a year but never felt the fulfillment she was looking for.
“I thought I would enjoy a desk job, but then once I got into it, it was kind of mundane,” she said.
When she started thinking about other careers, her mind immediately went back to the impact her high school and college business teachers had.
“Seeing the way they made my life better made me want to pursue the same path.”
With a new goal in her sights, Becker enrolled in UNK’s Transitional Certification Program, which provides an alternative pathway for individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher who want to become certified teachers in Nebraska. The program includes a mix of online courses and field experiences, allowing participants to start working in a classroom right away.
Becker taught at Overton Public Schools for a year before joining Kearney High School in August 2022.
“It’s been a really good transition for me,” she said. “I feel like I’ve definitely found something that I can see myself doing long-term.”
Becker teaches accounting, finance, economics and business law classes at KHS and serves as the FBLA adviser and assistant girls golf coach.
The NSBEA award recognized her innovative teaching methods and passion for inspiring and nurturing young minds – qualities UNK lecturer Alyse Pflanz also sees.
“Kaylei is someone who isn’t afraid to try new things. She implements new software programs that will help her students learn better and engages them by doing new and innovative activities and lessons. She is always trying to improve and make her curriculum the best it can be,” said Pflanz, coordinator of the UNK business teacher education program and director of the Center for Economic Education on campus.
“With teaching being her second career path, she’s even more dedicated to it and doing it for all the right reasons,” Pflanz added.
Becker makes her classes as interactive as possible, with an emphasis on group projects, hands-on activities and discussion-based learning. Her business law students participate in mock trials; the accounting classes utilize financial documents from real companies; and a personal finance project allows students to learn about a variety of careers through role-playing.
“I don’t like to just stand in front of the class and lecture,” Becker said, “so I try to get them involved in their education.”
She wants every student to walk away with something, whether it’s better money-management skills, the ability to do their own taxes or the foundational knowledge they’ll need to pursue a business career.
“It’s rewarding for me just to see those lightbulbs go off and watch them get excited about these topics,” she said.
Becker will complete the Transitional Certification Program in May and she’s also working on a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in business and IT education through UNK. Many of the same courses count toward both programs.
When Becker earns her MBA in December 2024, she’ll advance on the pay scale and be qualified to teach dual-enrollment classes.
“UNK has made it affordable for me to continue my education and keep doing everything that I want to do,” she said. “The mentors and advisers that I have there are the ones who got me to where I am now. I probably wouldn’t have this job or this career without them.”