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State to Name 2015 Teacher of the Year from Among 20 Nominees

Twenty Delaware teachers have been nominated for the honor of being named Delaware’s Teacher of the Year for 2015.

Selected from among the 9,000 public school teachers in the state, the nominees each represent one of the state’s 19 school districts or charter schools. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 21 at the annual awards banquet.

The reception begins at 5 p.m. at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino in Dover. The program begins at 6 p.m. with the winner named at the end of the night. Funding for the award ceremony is made in part by grants from Voya Financial and Hope Street Group.

The candidates were nominated by their districts or charter school network during the 2014 calendar year because of their superior ability to inspire students with a love of learning, exemplary demonstration of professional traits and strong sense of dedication and devotion to teaching.

“These 20 teachers represent the many outstanding educators working in schools across our state,” Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said. “Often influenced by great teachers in their own lives, they have dedicated themselves to the success of every child in their classrooms as well as the improvement of their profession as a whole.”

Each nominee submitted a detailed portfolio exemplifying his or her teaching philosophy. Five Delaware Department of Education staff members independently evaluate each portfolio. A former state Teacher of the Year and a member of the DOE staff also visit each candidate’s classroom to observe his or her teaching.   
Taking into consideration the ratings from the portfolio review and classroom observation, another independent panel of non-DOE judges then selects the one teacher who will serve as the 2015 State Teacher of the Year. The teacher chosen to become the State Teacher of the Year will become Delaware’s nominee in the national program, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with Voya Financial and People to People Ambassador Programs.

The Delaware Teacher of the Year also takes on the important task of representing all teachers in the state, addressing community groups, business leaders, legislators and educational organizations to inform the public about education in Delaware.

By action of the General Assembly, the Delaware Teacher of the Year will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of his or her students, as well as a personal grant of $3,000.  Additionally, all nominees will receive a $2,000 grant from the state.

Information on this year’s nominees and quotes from their essays on why they became teachers is below. Photos of the nominees are available here.

Megan Szabo, Caesar Rodney School District, Postlethwait Middle School – Grades 7 & 8 Science

“For most of my childhood, I dreamed of being a professional tap dancer.  I loved the feeling of being up on stage and performing in front of an audience.  As I made my way through school, my love of science continued to grow with each class I took.  I also felt a pull toward a profession where I could impact people and help them have better lives.  Because of this, I put my love of performing aside and entered college as a biology major.”

Jennifer R. Heffernan, Capital School District, Central Middle School – Grades 7 & 8 Mathematics

“Words of a failing boy drive me to my greatest contribution as a teacher and that is to champion the underdog.  The students who to no fault of their own have odds stacked up against their educational success.  The students whose inner drive for success is next to nothing, the students who have no confidence or have never felt success inside a math class are the students who provide me with the greatest challenges and the greatest rewards.”

Pamela Hobbs,
Lake Forest School District, Lake Forest Central Elementary – Grades 4-5 S.T.E.M.

“I’ve always felt like teaching was a career that was chosen for me before I consciously chose it for myself.  You see my mother worked in education most of my life so I was fortunate to have a lot of educators as friends of the family or within my church family that I looked up to and respected.  Too many of them for it to be a coincidence saw something in me or about me and continually told me that teaching was what I would be good at, had a knack for, and should do with my life.”

Judith Jones Woods, Milford School District, Milford Central Academy – Grade 7 Science

“I never thought I would become a teacher, because I hated school as a kid. I was an earnest, sensitive little girl, raised by a biology professor dad and a mom who always sought fairness and justice. This combination of traits was enough to virtually paint a ‘kick me’ sign on my back, and I became a victim of bullying ...   In high school, I transferred to a private school.  Bullying and violence were not tolerated at this school. Traumatized by my earlier experiences, I was unable to trust anyone, and found it hard to make friends, but my teachers treated me like a human being, appreciated my individuality, and taught me to work with my peers. Because of the climate, the students were tolerant and accepted me.”

Elyse Starr, POLYTECH School District, POLYTECH High School—Grades 9-12 English

“When I left for college, I had no idea what my future held, but I knew that I wanted to do something new and exciting.  I wanted to make a difference.  I began to think that teaching might be the choice for me.  I remembered my favorite teachers.  That was when I realized the impact all of these people had on my life.  They helped shape me into the person I am today.  I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”

Ryan Buchanan,
Smyrna School District, Smyrna High School – Grades 9- 12 English

“As a kindergarten teacher (and eventual principal) in the Christina School District, and a former State Teacher of the year, my mother was a tireless teacher who truly invested in her students.  I was constantly aware of her positive influence on her community.  Everywhere we went she is confronted by parent and ex-students giving her hugs and lavishing her with praise about what she meant to them. With such a positive example, I was understandably inspired.”

Lisa Spedden,
Appoquinimink School District, Everett Meredith Middle School – Grade 7 Mathematics

“My sixth grade teacher told me to never become the label others put upon me.  He impressed upon me the need to believe I could achieve anything with which I challenged myself, even if it took me longer than others to attain the same result.  What Mr. Druce shared with me was nothing less than the power of self-belief.  I was suddenly someone who could achieve greatness while breaking free of boundaries that once limited me.”

Thomas Dean, Brandywine School District, Mount Pleasant High School – Grades 9-12 Music/CTE (Audio Engineering)

“When I first went off to college, I had no intention of being a teacher, and every intention of being a performing musician – with the dream that one day I would be playing Chopin on the stage of Carnegie Hall.  My first two years as an undergraduate were spent taking general education courses and required music classes with that goal in mind.  It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that my entire focus changed and I knew that I had to teach. The class was Education Psychology. It was that class that changed the course of my life and gave it a new focus – it was my awakening.”

Jamett L. Garlick, Christina School District, West Park Place Elementary – Grade 1

“ ‘I don’t want to be like my mother’ were my exact thoughts as I applied to the University of Delaware.  ‘I’m going to be an executive, have a big office and boss people around,’ were my exact thoughts as I received my BS in accounting. Eight years later, as an internal auditor with my CPA, I thought, ‘I can’t do this for the next 30 years, I’m not making a real difference and there is no meaningful professional fulfillment in what I am doing.   I should have been a teacher like my mother.’ ” 

Lea Ann Skipper, Colonial School District, Southern Elementary – Grades K-2 Integration Program

“I remember feeling unsure and uneasy my first day of student teaching at John G. Leach School, but that day truly changed my life.  I had never interacted with children who had disabilities and here I was in an entire school specializing in just that.  The first student who came in the classroom was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl.  She couldn’t talk, had an uneven gait, looked different, and she was crying.  I surmised she felt just like I felt – scared and unsure – so I got down on the floor, pulled her into my lap and comforted her.  I realized right then and there that she wasn’t different, she was just a scared little 3-year-old girl on her first day of school.”

Susan Moyer, New Castle County VoTech School District, Paul M. Hodgson Vo-Tech High School – Grades 9 & 10 Nursing Technology

“I have been a nurse for 32 years, and in this role I have had many opportunities to teach informally to patients and their families.  As an RN, I was always drawn to opportunities involving teaching, whether it was serving on a patient education committee, doing 1:1 teaching with a patient, or functioning as a preceptor.  As a preceptor who worked closely with newly hired nurses or graduate nurses, I oriented them over an extended period, helping them to transition to where they functioned autonomously.  I continued to function as a resource as they progressed in their careers. There is a strong correlation between helping new nurses learn their job and providing insight and feedback to new students entering Hodgson.”

Tami L. Soltow, Red Clay Consolidated School District, Alexis I. duPont High School – Grades 9-12 Science

“I am a teacher, then attorney, now a teacher again who never lost her love for teaching and was influenced back into the classroom.  My first influence was my 8th grade Science Teacher, Mr. Ronald DeMuro … One Friday after a test was passed back, Mr. DeMuro pulled me aside and asked why I was doing so poorly in class.  I gave him several untrue reasons and he simply asked me if I knew that girls in the 7th and 8th grades often have lower grades in math and science classes because they felt peer pressure not to do well.  When I finally told him that I just wanted my ‘friends’ and the boy who sat next to me to like me, he said these words I will never forget, ‘Tami, you are smart and cannot change that.  Why would you want to?  You can help others but don’t hurt yourself.’ ” 

Cathie Kennedy, The Charter School of Wilmington – Grades 9-12 French

“Born the first girl in five generations of boys on my father’s side, I was called the princess and the queen by my family members.  We lived in Philadelphia.  What I remember most about my home life was laughing a lot. We were fairly irreverent, and responded to almost any situation with humor.  One serious incident that could not be alleviated with humor was my train accident in Germany. What do I remember of my three-week hospital stay in Germany? Oddly enough, it was a catalyst for passionate language learning.”

Stephanie Shuttleworth, Cape Henlopen School District, H. O. Brittingham Elementary – Grades K-3 ILC

“Back in high school, I always noticed the classroom in the basement next to the boiler room near the cafeteria as I waited in the lunch line.  The door was usually closed, and no one quite knew what went on in there.  What we did know was that we never saw those kids outside of that room anywhere in the building … That classroom was relocated to the main floor of the building, smack-dab in the center of the school.  It then seemed that the door was always open and the students inside were much less mysterious.  I became very interested in those kids.  One day as I was walking down the hall, one of them caught my eye and gave me a great big smile. From that day forward, I served as a student ‘helper’ in the special education classroom at my high school and it was then that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”

Judy Mills,
Delmar School District, Delmar Middle School – Grade 8 Mathematics

“As my first math teacher, my father instilled in me the importance of mathematical fluency, precision, and application which I strive daily to impart to students in my math classroom.  Earning his GED after serving in World War II, my father worked as a carpenter and gasoline tank truck driver, careers rich in mathematical applications, which he readily shared with me during my formative years.”

Clarissa M. Stevenson, Indian River School District, Millsboro Middle School – Grade 8 Social Studies

“My dad says I was born to be a teacher.  Maybe it was the fact that I grew up in a house constructed from an actual one-room schoolhouse; or maybe it was the fact that I taught my sister, Rachel, to read when she was 4 years old; or just maybe it was the fact that school became my own place of comfort and safety when I needed to escape the inconsistent and damaging events of my own childhood.  I became a teacher because I want to make a difference.  I understand the power I have to challenge, support, and forever change my students.  I know that education is the only ticket to a better life for many of my students; consequently I know that in order to help them better themselves, I must continue to better myself.”

Kara Rawlings, Laurel School District, Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary - Kindergarten

“School did not come easily for me, however the more great teachers I encountered the more confident I became.  Still to this day I have a special place in my heart for my first grade teacher, Mrs. Bailey.  She was so kind and gentle as she encouraged students to try harder.  Mrs. Bailey also used song to engage her students.  I enjoyed her so much that when I was in fifth grade she tutored me until I was able to do well in history.   Mrs. Miles was another teacher who helped me feel good about school and learning.  She was my eighth grade math teacher and math was not my subject, however Mrs. Miles made me feel like a superstar.”

Kara Kirby, Seaford School District, Central Elementary – Kindergarten

“During high school, my parents divorced, giving me more responsibility to help care for our youngest sibling, only 5 at the time. She was just starting kindergarten and full of excitement about school. At night, I helped her with her homework and school projects and encouraged her to learn how to read and do math. I volunteered often and was able to participate in the Creative Mentoring Program, where I mentored a young student once a week. These mentoring sessions work to build relationships to promote self-esteem, establish confidence and promote a love for learning. It was at this time I found the one thing about school I was passionate about: helping others to succeed.”

Carolyn Maull,
Sussex Technical School District, Sussex Technical High School—Grades 9-12 Physical Therapy / Athletic Health Care

“After just surviving the first grade I was lucky enough to have Mrs. Price, AKA the ‘Snow Queen’ in second grade.  She would dance around the class when those magical flakes were in the forecast and while she made us believe she actually was responsible for the white fluff, she also made each of us magically forget we were in school learning and teaching us to believe in ourselves.  I attempt to bring humor and fun in to my classroom for I feel teachers such as Mrs. Price gave a grounded sense and balance of hard work along with humor and fun.”

James Wheatley, Woodbridge School District, Woodbridge High School – Grades 9-12 Mathematics

“After having braces for a couple of horrific years, I was finally getting them removed.  After the removal, I was introduced to my new friend, the retainer … It was the day for class presentations and I was first up. Completely prepared, I walked in front of the room and gave my presentation with a retainer in my mouth for the first time. Slurring my words and sounding like daffy duck, I immediately was humiliated in front of all my peers … I eventually gained the ability to speak correctly while wearing my retainer in addition to acquiring a couple other unforeseen characteristics. I suddenly had confidence to speak in front of anyone, anywhere. I spoke with energy, passion, and fervor. I could now grasp anyone’s attention and hold on to it.”

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
302-735-4035