The next Hillsborough Teacher of the Year will be chosen from a pool of seven finalists that includes two music teachers and a first-grade teacher who returned to the classroom after two years as a mentor under the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers. Two are from middle magnet schools, one teaching math and the other business. All school winners will be honored at the awards ceremony at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on March 28. • The following are excerpts from the finalists' essays.
Claywell Elementary School
Former Empowering Effective Teachers mentor
"I believe that engaging parents and families in the learning process is essential to my students' success. I feel that open house is a critical time to begin to engage parents in this discussion and solicit their help with various classroom projects. I have three to four parents who volunteer weekly to tutor students in reading and math. Additionally, I have at least 70 percent of my parents participate in various classroom reading projects including the Great American Teach-In, cooking projects, science experiments and research projects. As a result of this level of parent involvement, I have seen struggling students improve and become more self-confident and more engaged in their learning. The active involvement of volunteer parents truly fosters a feeling of family and community in our classroom."
Lanier Elementary School
"During the last two years, participation in my extracurricular music program has more than doubled. In a school of under 400 students, 211 are members of chorus, Orff Ensemble, and world drumming. I have seen them practice with passion as they prepare for off-campus performances like the Multi-Cultural Festival as well as earning one of the coveted eight spots in the Elementary Fine Arts Festival every year. My partnership with PTA has made it possible for more students to own their very own instrument. This has, in turn, improved student morale, access to music, and pride in their music education. There are few things more beautiful to me than walking through campus and hearing my students playing their own recorders during their free time."
Mitchell Elementary School
"I have been given a tremendous gift and a higher calling: I am a teacher. It is with great purpose and passion that I use this gift each day to serve all stakeholders at my school. The foundation of my success is my belief that ALL students can learn. Because of this belief, my classroom is populated with the full spectrum of students; I am privileged to teach not only the most teachable, but also those students who present the most challenges. I am determined to see that each will achieve his or her full potential.
As a teacher, I know the importance of establishing a culture for learning. On the first day of school, I tell my students that they are going to work harder than they ever have and that they will love every minute of it. There is also a promise that I will be there every step of the way."
Business education teacher
Williams Middle Magnet School
"In order for me to stress the importance of leadership to my students, I believe that I need to show leadership. Leadership is something that most middle school students know nothing about. They are taught to follow the pack and make sure not to stand out too much. I have tried to change that at my school. I teach students how to lead others. I stress that standing out is a good thing. In a world that is craving innovation and new ideas, if my students do not lead they will be left behind. In my first three years of teaching, it was hard to find leadership opportunities at my school and in my department. However, now in my fourth year, I have taken every opportunity and sought out others to make sure that I am showing leadership and being a good role model to my fellow teachers. At my school, I have taken a leadership role in the electives team. I am also in charge of the school website and morning show."
Young Middle Magnet School
"In my classroom, I use inquiry-based lessons that allow students to investigate math concepts through hands-on learning. In geometry, students investigate quadrilaterals and then create a 'family tree' to show all properties. Seventh-grade students design and build cereal boxes to explore area, surface area and volume. In my math research course, I adapted the Future City competition goals to write original lessons about engineering and integrate other content areas. Over a semester, students learn about cities' needs and infrastructure, design a city on the computer with SimCity 4 software, write a research paper, build a scale model of the city, and present their work at a regional competition."
Band and orchestra director
King High School
"Student learning is my primary concern as an educator. As a band director, I demand excellence of my students — holding those expectations high. My students have risen to my expectations, which has been evident in our superior rating over the past years, as well as having the greatest number of students in the All-County Honors Orchestra in 2012. At our competition last year in Washington, D.C., our seven ensembles received five first place and two second place awards for their outstanding performances. Because of the atmosphere of excellence established in my classroom, we have been featured for the last two years on ESPN at the Under Armour All-American Game — being one of two bands selected in the nation to perform."
English Department head, teacher and writing resource teacher
Spoto High School
"I began my career nine years ago teaching intensive reading. After much success with teaching reading, I was surprised when AP literature was offered to me five years ago. At the start of my second year of AP, writing resource was suggested as an opportunity for growth, followed by the English Department head position. Even in isolation, each of these positions has proven to be a full load.
I often get asked how I do it all. My simple response is because these kids are worth it. A positive high school experience guided me through dark times in my family life as a teenager. The students at my school are faced with even tougher challenges and need someone who is fully committed to them. My principal always says our school is rough and you really have to want to work here to make it. It has to be a calling to work at a Title 1 high school in a tough neighborhood. These kids are worth my 12 hour days because they deserve a chance at a positive future."