Outstanding Educator Award 2013

Carlos Montero
Chemistry
Years Teaching: 9
Dr. Michael M. Krop High School
Miami, FL

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What do you learn from your students?

Every year I teach about 150 students, they all have one teacher but I have 150 teachers! My students keep me humble and inspire me to continue on a path of self-improvement.

What’s something unique about your classroom environment?

After witnessing a scientific phenomenon, students are asked to come up with their own ideas to explain what they just observed. It is perfectly acceptable for them to be creative and even make mistakes.

How do you prepare your students for college?

A well-taught chemistry course gives young minds the opportunity to decipher the inner workings of the world around us. It also helps them develop a scientific mind adept in inquiry and reasoning which is an important tool for any future career.

What makes you proud to be a teacher?

Ultimately, I feel most proud when my students pursue chemical sciences as a career as it evokes images of my own youth and reminds me how pivotal I can be to their future.

Student Testimony

Marc Vernick, Class of 2016 – "Mr. Montero is a consummate educator. His zeal for Chemistry is infectious, and is, in large part, the cause for my own interest in the sciences. Mr. Montero has been my teacher, my mentor, and my friend."


Bonnie Moss
Spanish
Years Teaching: 11
Portage Central High School
Portage, MI

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Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I first knew that I wanted to be a teacher when I was in high school. I had a Spanish teacher that truly inspired me and opened my eyes to the beautiful language. As a teacher, she was outgoing, fun and challenging all at the same time. Her enthusiasm sparked the passion that I still have in me today for teaching and for continuing to learn Spanish. Through my college years, I had many educators that expressed that same charisma and positive drive to teach students. I realized that this was the lifelong path that I wanted to travel on.

What do you learn from your students?

I am amazed at the work ethic of many of my students. I appreciate the amount of motivation and gumption that many of them possess. These endearing traits remind me why a rigorous, challenging education is so important in today’s society. I try to give them a taste of what a Spanish class will be like in college by incorporating a total immersion method.

How do you prepare your students for college?

I believe that the International Baccalaureate Program does a superb job of preparing our teenagers for college. The diversity of the requirements as well as the rigor of the curricula set a high standard for the students.

Student Testimony

Daniel Tumm, Class of 2016 – "Bonnie Moss is an OUTSTANDING educator. The fact that Señora Moss left an impression on me even after I finished her class is evidence of her influence on me."


Jonathan Shulman
World History and U.S. Government & Politics
Years Teaching: 14
La Jolla Country Day School
La Jolla, CA

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Why did you decide to become a teacher?

If we free ourselves to understand the past through critical thinking and historiographical analysis, we take a step closer to achieving the greatest gifts of humanity that the universe has vested upon us. And what could possibly be better than taking this journey every day with young people who are embarking on their own adventures for the first time?

What do you learn from your students?

In my classroom, there are always at least two teachers: I am one, and my students are the other. After almost fifteen years as a teacher, I'm still receiving the benefits of fresh eyes and minds on the material that we discuss.

What’s one thing you do in your classroom that sets you apart from other educators?

With the San Diego History Center, I have helped develop a partnership whereby the students complete an oral history that is then archived for use by future historians. With the City Club of San Diego, I have brought members of Congress, presidential candidates, several governors, and numerous authors and journalists from across the political spectrum to school for students to learn from experts in the field.

How do you prepare your students for college?

Preparing students for college is all about helping them develop their ability to think critically. A student who knows how to think in terms of first distinguishing evidence from assumption and then acting on a rational conclusion is going to do more than just survive in college.

What is the value of a liberal arts education?

The real value of a liberal arts education is to create a love for learning and lifelong quest for a journey that will never reach a satisfactory end. As Buckminster Fuller put it, "I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe."

What do you want your legacy to be as an educator?

If we are all made of star dust, as science indicates that we are, then we too can shine in our own ways and make others around us better people as well. We must accept that as human beings in our small place in the universe that we have limitations, but we must never confuse a limitation with an obstacle or use it as an excuse for defeat. If any of my students can take this very special gift they've been given to contribute to their communities for the betterment of others, I am confident that the career to which I have dedicated my life was the right choice for me.

Student Testimony

Caroline Wegner, Class of 2016 – "I quickly realized that 'flying under the radar' was unacceptable to him. He made me talk those first few weeks of school and before he knew it, he couldn't get me to shut up. He created an environment in the classroom that encouraged argument and discussion, that didn't penalize you for a wrong answer, where everyone became equals and, eventually, life-long friends."


Devondra McMillan
Classics
Years Teaching: 10
Lawrenceville High School
Lawrenceville, NJ

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Bio

I have been teaching for ten years, eight of them at Lawrenceville. I have taught Latin, Greek, classics and humanities as well as coaching soccer and teaching yoga.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

My love of the classics was my first draw to teaching. I stayed because discovering language, literature, and other cultures with my students was a fascinating process and it became readily apparent that my students were learning a lot more than mere grammar.

What do you love most about teaching?

Every year a new group of students walks through my doors to teach me how they see the world and the work in and outside the classroom is just a lens we use to compare notes. It is a privilege to take part in helping my students discover who they are and witness their tremendous growth.

What’s one thing you do in your classroom that sets you apart from other educators?

Latin can be what a colleague called a terminal discipline. For most of my students, it is something they will study as a requirement and then use sparingly if at all. However, the actual learning that takes place while we figure out Latin together are the lessons I hope they use for the rest of their lives regardless of how often they can impress strangers by defining agricola. Ideally, my students emerge confident in their ability to persevere so that they leave with self-confidence even if all they can remember of Latin is that agricola means farmer.

What is the value of a liberal arts education?

The beauty of a liberal education is the open acknowledgment that the value of being educated is not to learn to do, but the more important skill of how to be. By emphasizing a broad exposure to a variety of skill sets, a liberal education aims to allow students to make an educated choice about who they want to be, which leads to even better decisions about what they want to do. To paraphrase Plato, the good life is an examined one and allowing students to specialize before they have had a chance to explore limits their talents. After all, if someone hadn’t decided I should learn a language and biology I would not have been able to recognize my calling.


Lisa Thyer
English
Years Teaching: 7
Amos Alonzo Stagg High School
Palos Hills, IL

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Bio

Stories have always been important to me—whether they were the stories my dad made up for my brother and me about the mouse that lived behind our house or even the stories I would excitedly force my less than thrilled little brother to listen to me read aloud once I realized I could read on my own—I loved them all.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Initially when I applied to college I thought the answer to my career search was to become a journalist—I could tell stories that could influence people, stories that would matter. However, after only a few months volunteering as a tutor to high school students my freshman year of college and remembering my mom’s stories of the grade school students she taught that remembered her years later as adults, I realized that while journalism was important and exciting, it was teaching that truly mattered. I feel extremely fortunate to come to my job every day and talk about something I love.

What do you love most about teaching English?

I think the stories we read in class help students learn empathy. These stories help them understand a different perspective, teach them to think beyond the surface, and help them to understand that they too have a story worth sharing. It is my students’ stories that are the best part of my job.

What do you learn from your students?

My students teach me that sometimes it’s ok to put today’s lesson aside because what is going on outside our classroom walls may be more important at the moment than even the symbolism in The Great Gatsby. My students teach me to keep at it because even when it may feel as though I am talking to myself again and dragging them through another lesson or novel or essay, they are listening—even if they don’t admit it until after they graduate. Most important, my students remind me how truly privileged I am to be their teacher.

What’s one thing you do in your classroom that sets you apart from other educators?

I constantly work to make the curriculum relevant, whether it is on a small scale, such as finding ways for students to connect personally with a seemingly inaccessible character in a Shakespearian tragedy, or on a larger scale by bringing in slam poets to perform for the students, or encouraging and giving my students the agency and means to create, plan and implement their own social action project.

How do you prepare your students for college?

As an English teacher I feel that being able to communicate ideas in a manner that is effective in both accuracy and aesthetics is perhaps one of the most valuable skills to ensure success in college and beyond. Therefore, I emphasize writing immensely in my classroom. Not only do we work on writing the standard academic essays, but also argumentative and persuasive pieces for real situations, to real audiences. I want them to understand that writing is not simply a tedious and torturous academic exercise, but a skill that has true relevance and power.

What do you want your legacy to be as an educator?

Having only taught for seven years, it is a bit difficult to think of myself as a person capable of leaving something as powerful as a “legacy” behind. So, if “legacy” is something that is never associated with my name, I would at least like to know that I had a reputation of being tough but fair, imperfect but persistent, and was a teacher that cared so much it was impossible for her students not to care too.

Student Testimony

Mara Heneghan, Class of 2016 – "She goes out of her way to attend school events from football games to drama club productions and is always interested to hear what her students are doing outside of the classroom. This interest in her students' lives and respect for their time fostered the most positive learning environment I have ever experienced and earned her mutual respect from all of her classes. This atmosphere inspired her students to do well in all subjects simply to make Mrs. Thyer proud."


Bipul Pande
Physics
Years Teaching: 20+
Dhirubhai Ambani International School
Mumbai, Maharashtra (India)

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What do you learn from your students?

I learn patience. I learn tolerance. I learn understanding. I gain confidence. I feel happiness. And more than anything else I learn my Physics, teaching them, every day.

What’s one thing you do in your classroom that sets you apart from other educators?

I repeat things one hundred and one times if I have to. I lose my cool, at times, but never show it. I ride the tide with them. I genuinely care for them. I genuinely am interested in their affairs. I am never happier than when I can help them in any little way.

How do you prepare your students for college?

I tell them to dream and dream big, and that this will carry them into college, into the dorms, and the streets, and into the physical environment they are going to be in. Love will follow and with it success.

Student Testimony

Kumar Anurag, Class of 2016 – "Mr. Pande is one of those rare people who not only have an unimaginable passion for their subject, but also the ability to instill such passion in others. He taught me for two years, and that was enough to transform my approach to learning. His approach to education is based on curiosity, and he does an excellent job of satiating our thirst for answers while also provoking us to ask more questions."


Denise Foster
English
Years Teaching: 20+
Adlai E. Stevenson High School
Lincolnshire, IL

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Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I became a teacher because life is not a Sudoku game. Though I understand the allure of clean logic, of sequencing numbers, one through nine without repeating, in even rows, horizontal and vertical, I appreciate even more nuance and gradation, ambiguities and possibilities, the infinite combinations of words and their effect on the mind and the heart. Teaching English is about so much more than teaching students to read and write; it’s about teaching students to question and explore and grapple … it’s about teaching students to think.

What’s one thing you do in your classroom that sets you apart from other educators?

As a writing teacher, I think it’s important that students see me as a writer who also struggles and tinkers and revises. To honor their trust in me, I reveal my trust in them by sharing a deeply personal piece that I wrote a few years after my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. I try to write with my students, making myself as vulnerable as they make themselves, so that I become a fellow writer, a fellow learner.

How do you prepare your students for college?

I coach students to see that each text demands that the reader ask different questions. I want students to pose their own questions, which should in turn lead to more questions. I also want students to experiment in their writing and to become objective critics of their own writing.


Ian Altman
AP English Language
Years Teaching: 8
Clarke Central High School
Athens, GA

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Bio

As an undergraduate philosophy major I realized the fundamental importance of critical thinking, but also came to understand that this skill must be accompanied by empathy and attentiveness to the needs of other people. Thus, learning to me is a kind of obligation, and it must be directed to human well-being. In other words, this profession is one of the highest expressions of humanist principles.

What do you love most about teaching English?

The choice to teach language and literature in particular was an easy one: we think in language, and the creation and study of literature is fundamentally the exploration and expression of the significance of our lives and experiences of the world. In a time when the public discourse of education is increasingly and now almost exclusively utilitarian and focused on careers and the economy, I believe it has never been more important to bear these human reasons for learning in mind and to make students aware of them and of their importance. What good is a thriving economy when people do not consider the importance or even the legitimacy of their humanity?

What’s one thing you do in your classroom that sets you apart from other educators?

Critical thinking to me does not just mean learning how to solve problems. It means creating problems. I want students to read the text of the world in a critical way, which means that when they look at it, I want them to see past what our culture designs for them to see. This is not to make them pessimists; it is to make them aware. So, one thing that I should like to think sets me apart is that one of the first things I do with all of my classes is to have them take apart the very curricula they are learning. For example, when my students look at the new Common Core Standards, I want them to ask who benefits from their learning according to those standards, what modes of learning and kinds of thoughts may lie outside those standards, and what the rhetoric of the standards tells us about the discourse of education as such.

What is the value of a liberal arts education?

A true liberal arts education begins in the awareness that "humanity" is not simply the species homo sapiens. We must understand humanity to be an ongoing project. In Nietzsche's formulation, we are "the unfinished animal." The value of a liberal arts education is in being able to in some way direct that project and to be responsible for it rather than just to go along for the ride. The humanities must make us more human in that deeper sense, and I believe teachers have an obligation to engage in that task.

What do you want your legacy to be as an educator?

I would like my legacy as an educator to involve at least two things. First, I want my students to be aware that learning, at its best, is inherently unsafe and sometimes revolutionary. That doesn't mean I think "true" learning fits neatly into some political perspective or another, just that it must always be disruptive in some way, and that we should celebrate those disruptions. Second, I would like to have a legacy as an advocate for students, especially, currently, undocumented immigrants. I have engaged in the struggle to help undocumented students gain access to college for several years now and have found that to be some of the most challenging and fulfilling work I've done as a teacher.


Lynn A. Mittler
English
Years Teaching: 19
Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School
St. Louis, MO

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What do you learn from your students?

I learn that despite the bombardment of images from the media, that young people still believe they can change the world for the better. I am reminded of the time when dreams had no boundaries. I have the opportunity to watch the daily wonder that students still exhibit when they make connections.

What’s one thing you do in your classroom that sets you apart from other educators?

I created a class called the Global Action Project and am lucky enough to work at a school that values interdisciplinary work enough to allow me a year-long course. There are four strands of study: personal interest exploration, global issues, documentary film making and social entrepreneurship. The course is based on the principles of project-based learning so the students are immersed in exploring their own passions while learning about the world around them. They then learn how to share stories through film that matter to them and finally create a social enterprise that addresses a problem they are passionate about.

How do you prepare your students for college?

While I know that I prepare students for college through our rigorous English curriculum full of textual analysis, critical thinking and analytical writing, I am more curious about the skills they will need to function beyond college. In the past five years, I have been consumed with a desire to identify what skills students need in the 21st century and how we can best serve them. From the traditional skills of critical thinking and communication through writing and speaking, there are new avenues of thought about the importance of adaptability and agility, the power of networking and collaboration. I wonder how I can help students learn the skills of innovation within the context of a regular 10th grade English class. I want the students to realize their dreams of becoming leaders in their field or creators of an entirely new field.


Marcia (Marc) Lavine, Ph.D.
AP European History and AP Art History
Years Teaching: 24 Years
University School of Nashville
Nashville, TN
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Read her story

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I entered the teaching profession for two inter-related reasons. I was lucky to have experienced great teachers and professors who taught me not only course content and skills but also to derive pleasure from the process of researching and learning. That led me to want to continue to be a student, and the best way to be a truly life-long student is to be a teacher… Having recently added AP Art History to my teaching duties, I’m discovering whole new fields for study alongside my students. It’s the partnership with young minds that is the best thing about teaching.

What do you learn from your students?

On the non-academic side, I learn enough about current teen popular culture to listen and like new music of all genres, to avoid movies that will upset or annoy me, and to stay “young” enough to be open-minded and not instantly reject the new and (I hope) not to be classified as a dinosaur. More seriously I learn from the body of them that there is a lot to be hoped from the next generations in terms of their potential for problem-solving, accepting differences, effecting change and doing good.

One of my favorite books on the cultural impact of “The Great War”—Modris Eksteins’ Rites of Spring—came to my attention first in an excellent student book review. And in my art history classes, there are multiple times a year when a student, seeing a work for the first time, will point out a hidden figure or meaning, or a rhythm created by repeated similar lines or unity created by color, that I, having read about and seen the work many times, have still missed.

Early in my career, I learned to say frankly, “I don’t know” when asked about a detail, a nuance, or a whole range of knowledge outside my ken. I found that owning up to ignorance and putting forward a possible answer then proven wrong after research helped students be more willing to make “educated guesses” and gain practice and confidence in their ability to think and to understand that “being wrong” is not an unforgiveable act.

What’s one thing you do in your classroom that sets you apart from other educators?

I hold students to a high level of behavior and attentiveness in class (fixing those who try to hole-punch a paper in the middle of class with an expertly arched eyebrow), but I’ll also call for a “field trip” to the nearby Ben and Jerry’s when I feel stress has become counter-productive. I own up to my mistakes and encourage my students to do the same.

What is the value of a liberal arts education?

At its best, it helps mold a humane human who values learning for its own sake and for the benefits it can bring about for that human and for others. It also provides knowledge and the skills to seek additional knowledge to realize these benefits.

Student Testimony

Murphy Spence, Class of 2016 – Dr. Lavine did more than give us hard tests and massive amounts of material. She expected a higher level of thinking and analysis; she pushed us to see in new and different ways; she gave lectures that spanned across disciplines and forced us to shift intellectual gears. I never thought of myself as a high schooler in her class; she gave us more credit than that and treated us as students in the purest sense of the word, never watering down material or accepting less than our best.


Mary Clair Wissman
French
Years Teaching: 16
International Academy’s West Campus
Bloomfield Hills, MI

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Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a teacher. I always loved school and I was influenced by some outstanding educators as a child. I had an outstanding French teacher in high school and I traveled with her and the rest of our French class to France on a two-week trip when I was 14. It was a life-changing experience and I decided then to study French in college. I love being able to offer my students the same experience that I had at their age. I travel with them to France and I do my best to bring French language and culture alive for them in my classroom.

What do you learn from your students?

They help me remember what it is like to discover something for the first time.

How do you prepare your students for college?

I help them set goals and I help them find the tools to achieve them.

What is the value of a liberal arts education?

People with a liberal arts education not only know what to do to be successful, they also know why.

Student Testimony

Rebecca Mak, Class of 2016 – “In her classroom, French is not only about conjugations and tenses, but it also turns into a culture and a whole new world to explore.”