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19 top teachers honored, one to be named Teacher of Year

Nineteen Delaware teachers will be honored next month when one of them will be named Delaware’s Teacher of the Year for 2016.

Selected from among the 9,000 public school teachers in the state, the nominees each represent one of the state’s 19 school districts. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 20 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 during the 2015 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.

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 department 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-department judges then selects the one teacher who will serve as the 2016 Delaware 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.

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 are below. Photos of the nominees are available here (Click the “i” button to see caption information).

 

 Appoquinimink: Amanda Chas, Middletown High, Grades 9-12 drama, theatre and dance

I did not set out to be a teacher, the profession just kind of jumped up and bit me. I thought  that I was destined  to be an actor,  so  that  is what I studied  in college  - acting,  and  I graduated  with a B.F.A. in musical theatre.  I was asked to direct summer children's theatre at the Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware, the same workshop that transformed my life as a child. The Everett was home. I grew up on that stage and fondly remember the coolness of the space, the sound of the stage as I stepped onto it, and the automatic response I had when the music began to play. I had never worked with children before but was up to the challenge. I had no idea that same theatre where I portrayed Jellylorum the cat was going to transform my life again as an adult.


Brandywine: Diana Golden, Forwood Elementary, Grade 5 math, reading (on special assignment as a teacher leader at Harlan Elementary for 1 year)

Ever since I was 6 years old, I loved school.  I loved school so much that I would play school in the basement every day after school and at 8 am on Saturdays.  I wanted to be like my teachers.  I wanted to wear my hair like them; I loved the outfits they wore, the way they read aloud, the way they taught me to read.  When I got to middle school and high school, I admired my teachers even more. The one thing all of my teachers had in common was they believed in me and made me believe in myself.


Caesar Rodney: Sandra Krugh, Simpson Elementary, Grade 1

I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to become a teacher. I think it was just something I always wanted to do. So I headed off to college ready to become the best teacher ever. During my freshman year of college, I was required to get contact hours with special needs learners.  To comply with this mandate, I registered to be a buddy at the university’s Special Olympics Soccer Tournament. That tournament was the day that changed my life forever. I was inspired and awed by what I observed.  On that day, I fell in love with special needs kids. I discovered that they had so much to give and that they wanted very little in return, attaining their individual educational goals. Since 1999, I have been teaching first and second grade. I have found there are just as many children needing that special someone in their lives as in my previous positions. Those students inspire me each day.  I feel that my greatest contribution to education is my capacity to love all children. Each child is recognized for his or her uniqueness. 

Cape Henlopen: Kristin Gray, Shields Elementary, Grades K - 5 mathematics

As a result of excellent report cards and high test scores, in 8th grade I was placed in the advanced pre-algebra class. What I saw at the time to be such an honor, however, turned into the most deflating learning experience of my life.  What I did not realize at the time was I am a learner who needs to know the why. The why is how I make sense of math. When I made the decision to retake pre-algebra in high school, I had a teacher who brought that realization to life. Mrs. Evans taught in a way in which I understood what the mathematical ideas truly meant.  She pushed me to look deeper into the mathematical relationships and, most importantly, supported me in believing that I was an excellent math student. She cared. I left her class that year and continued through high school and college. In addition to changing my ability to do math, she restored my self-confidence. It was truly a life-changing year for me as a learner.

 

Capital: Lyndsey Cook, Kent County Community School, Grades 5-6 science/mathematics

I have always been interested in helping anyone and anything.  I wanted to help people who physically couldn’t help themselves.  I needed to have a purpose for my life, and I felt that helping children with autism and severe disabilities was exactly where I needed to be. I always recalled the way my favorite teachers (grades 2 and 5) made me feel when I was in school, and I wanted to do the same for each child who stepped through my door … consider it a paying it forward type of situation.  My former teachers are my inspiration and still are to this day because they all still work for Capital School District and still love the place the same way as they did the day I met them. I was raised in this district and grew up loving teachers, loving school and loving knowledge. 


Christina: Meghan Farrell, Brader Elementary, Grade 4

School was always a place where I wanted to be.  At school I always felt that I belonged, that I was supported, and that I could accomplish any goals that my teachers set for me with their support and guidance.  My success and passion for school did not just happen by luck. I became a person who will always love to learn because of my teachers, especially my elementary teachers at Sylvan Avenue Elementary in New York, who challenged me and pushed me to be my best while showing me that they genuinely cared about me. It was the teacher who hid dinosaur bones throughout the school grounds to teach us map skills, the teacher who made the American Revolution come alive by having us act out our own Boston Tea Party. When it came time for me to choose a career, I always knew that I wanted to do something challenging. I cannot think of anything more challenging and meaningful than doing for others what my teachers did for me – giving a lifelong passion for learning and the confidence to know that I could accomplish anything.

Colonial: Laura Bossert, Downie Elementary, Grade 4

Ever since I was little I have always wanted to be a teacher. However, there were a few rough years in between that shook my desire and made me question the purpose of a teacher. When I was in a seventh grade science class, I raised my hand and my teacher rolled his eyes and asked, “What else could you possibly want?” At that moment I became mortified and refused to raise my hand again. I went through the rest of middle and high school without raising my hand to ask a question for fear of wasting the teacher’s time and embarrassing myself. If it were not for my parents, I would not have succeeded and achieved the way I did in my education. When my confidence was shaken, I would have checked out for good. If not for their support and encouragement, I may have never seen the need for higher education and my dream of becoming a teacher would have never come true. For seven hours a day, it is my job to do for my students what my parents did for me. I am the one who is striving to build their confidence and push them to succeed, just as my parents did for me.


Delmar: Lori Smith, Delmar Middle, Grades 5-8 mathematics

At the young age of three or four, I was working on a primary jigsaw puzzle.  My preschool teacher shared with my parents how impressed she was with the ability I had to put a puzzle together for my age. I can still remember that moment and how it made me feel.  I did not understand until much later in life how the power of her words and her nurturing way had played such an integral part in building the jigsaw puzzle of my life. To this day, I love a challenging puzzle.

Indian River: Jennifer L. Cordrey, Indian River High, Grades 9-12 agriscience

It was my lifelong dream to become a small animal veterinarian. I went to college and majored in pre-veterinary medicine. I met a professor by the name of Dr. George Shorter. He approached me in one of my animal science classes and started talking to me about changing my major to agricultural education.  I was wondering where this discussion was coming from.  Little did I know that he had been watching how I interacted with my peers. I led discussions and assisted them when they were struggling with a concept that we had to cover in the lab. Dr. Shorter informed me that he firmly believed that I would make an excellent agriscience teacher. What I thought I wanted to be suddenly took a new direction. I was meant to teach.


Lake Forest: Kelly A. Sipple, Chipman Middle, grades 6-8 business education

Growing up in a large family of educators, I quickly learned the value of an education and how kindness and compassion allow minds to open to the world. Although there were teachers that negatively impacted other students and me in school, there were other teachers who molded me to find value and passion in teaching. Not until my second semester in college did I begin to consider becoming a teacher. I wanted to work with students and build a bond that would assist them to become successful in their education and career. As I stepped into my classroom for the first time, I was nervous yet excited. I did not want to be the teacher who makes students feel unworthy of their education. This is when I realized my dreams became reality.

Laurel: Mary Pierce-Cass, Laurel High, Grade 9 integrated/physical science

My road to teaching was paved by a series of events and inspired by a number of high-quality educators.  Perhaps the greatest influence on my pathway to teaching was a kindergartener I met through my first career as a child care provider. We read books, did science experiments, examined patterns and discussed life as a kindergartener. Jade experienced “light bulb” moments every day, leading to bigger discoveries and in-depth exploration of ideas. I loved watching her learn and grow into herself. Her love for learning was infectious; she was teaching me more than I was teaching her. My time with Jade is the inspiration I needed to enroll in an elementary education graduate degree program at Wilmington University. Recently, we reconnected. I am so thankful that I was able to tell her about the impact she had on me and consequently on hundreds of other students. I can only hope that I inspire others the way she inspired me.


Milford: Brandy Cooper, Milford Central Academy, Grade 6 mathematics

I was a college freshman sitting in biology. The professor was going over a diagram on the board.  I knew this already. I had memorized this exact diagram in high school, even aced this test. Then she began to talk about the function it served in life, the connection it had to other systems, the bigger picture. It was as if a light bulb went off over my head. I had spent years memorizing and compartmentalizing pieces of information in school, but what had I actually learned? If I couldn’t connect my learning to the bigger picture, to real life, then had I really learned anything at all?  It was that day in biology that I realized what we learn in school must connect to real life.

New Castle County Vo-Tech: Nicole Towers-Bowe, St. Georges Technical High, early childhood education

Although it started out as a childhood interest, imitating teachers or playing school, my passion to enter the teaching profession was driven by a deep desire to make a difference in peoples’ lives and develop creative ways to support their learning. I began my journey at a local childcare center where I assisted an after-school program for a 3-year-old classroom.  From that point on, my knowledge continuously grew and I recognized that I absolutely loved learning from the teachers and the children.


POLYTECH: Kristen L. Charles, POLYTECH High, Grades 9-12 mathematics

When I entered high school, my ninth grade Algebra I teacher whooped me right into shape. Ms. Benson was not there to play games. She was there to teach me math, and my tenacity was no match for her desire to make me understand. I absolutely loved it. She pushed me to my limits and giving up was not an option. The woman was tough! While this was exactly what I needed in ninth grade, I realized I did not know tough until I was a junior with Mr. Crews in Algebra II.  He genuinely taught from the first minute of class to the last minute. Talk about a stickler for routine, Mr. Crews would not accept problems without the formula written out every single time you used it. I learned to pay extreme attention to detail, show every last bit of my work and try new methods because of him.  Without these two teachers, I truly do not know if I would have pursued a teaching career in mathematics. This makes me even more grateful to have had their influence because I know that this is the position I should be in.

Red Clay Consolidated: Kristen McKenna, Linden Hill Elementary, Grade 5

I could say teaching was always my destiny.  I vividly remember multiple teachers who went out of their way to form great relationships with students and make school a fun and fair learning environment. Ms. McKim was a master at making learning exciting, even to a bunch of 13-year-olds. She made reading and writing painless and was able to create a very special atmosphere of respect and motivation in her classroom. In high school, Mr. McEvoy was able to unravel my love for history. He told every single one of us that we could be whatever we wanted to be if we worked hard. Now every year before I start the school year, I vow to be the Ms. McKim and Mr. McEvoy to my students. I want them to look back and think of me as someone who motivated them to be their best, work hard and enjoy learning.


Seaford: Ashley Adlam-Hernandez, Blades Elementary, Kindergarten English language arts/social studies

I remember when I was in first grade with my favorite teacher, Mrs. Bowen, I watched her closely to learn how she talked, walked around the room, presented her lessons, read books, and performed all other aspects of her teaching.  I would then go home every day and pretend to teach the children at my mother’s licensed home daycare center.  Mrs. Bowen made such an impression on me that I kept in communication with her periodically throughout her career and even into her retirement.  As a teacher, I have dedicated myself to working long and hard to one day be just like her.


Smyrna: Sandra Hall, North Smyrna Elementary, Grade 4

While I never set out to be a teacher at a young age, my former teacher, my family and my years of experience in business and the military have made me realize my life’s purpose.  Life is about people, and there is no greater joy in the world than to help others.  My experiences throughout my life were instrumental in helping me to understand who I am and what gives me the most joy in life. I am someone who wants to support and encourage others to do their very best, even during the worst of times.  


Sussex Tech: Anthony V. Carmen, Sussex Tech High, Grades 9-12 electronics engineering technology

Growing up in Southeast Baltimore City, Maryland, I attended the neighborhood public elementary school. I was identified as being “gifted and talented” in third grade and bussed across town to a G.A.T.E. program, which was run on a top floor of one of the most underperforming schools in the city. Here I witnessed a staggering divide in the education of children at a very early age. The real divide was in the exposure to material: our art class had access to a kiln and regularly created ceramics; we had individual lessons in musical instruments; and our science class had a tarantula and many hands-on experiences. I learned that these opportunities were not available in other sections of the school, just one floor away. In retrospect, while it was an incredibly enriching experience for me, I believe that the blatant disparity set the tone for many students in the other direction. The realization of what was happening would influence my teaching, making me keenly aware to be certain to differentiate instruction and to make every opportunity available to each student regardless of economic or societal factors.


Woodbridge: Jenna White, Woodbridge Early Childhood Education Center, Grade 1

The first person who motivated me to dedicate my life to educating children was my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Caputo. She set a nurturing, warm and inviting environment for her students as well as their families. Mrs. Caputo upheld the principle that each lesson taught had to be brought to life in exciting and innovative ways. I successfully integrate her techniques into my own classroom.

 

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006