Although Teacher Appreciation Week begins today, officials at the Department of Education started celebrating early by honoring the five experienced teachers who were inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame last Friday.
The teachers were invited to the Department of Education to talk about their practice and to discuss education policy with a number of senior-level officials. From the beginning of the conversation, however, the teachers wowed us by their passion for their students and their subjects—and by their humility.
- Beth Vernon, a science teacher from Missouri, described herself as someone who figured out early on that she had to make a classroom that she wanted to sit in. Vernon has created a CD compilation of songs about science to engage her students called Beth Vernon’s Rock Collection. Still, Vernon described herself as the winner of “the most surprised” teacher to be honored at the Hall of Fame and discussing policy at ED.
- Darryl Johnson, a language arts teacher also from Missouri, described his path to teaching as an unlikely one. The youngest of three boys, he was the first person in his family to attend college, and even when he did his student teaching, he wasn’t sure this was the profession for him. What changed Johnson’s path was observing how his lesson on the story “No News from Auschwitz (Rosenthal)” affected a student in the back row of his class. When he realized the effect he could have on individual students, he was all in. Since then, Johnson was selected as a Missouri State Teacher of the Year (2007), and he has earned and renewed his National Board Certification.
- Martha McLeod, “born and raised on a cattle ranch in Texas,” says it is important for her to help “kids in poverty” to connect what they learn in her 5th grade science class to the rest of the world. Her school recycling program has won numerous awards, but she admits that she doesn’t run the program for the accolades. “I want my kids to know that we are not a throw-away society,” she explained.
- As a rural student living in Northern Maryland, Rebecca Gault was homeschooled in grades 6-12. Lessons from her mother were so organized that got a notecard of objectives every week, telling what she should do and what she should learn. On Fridays, she took the tests in every subject. From her mother, Gault says she learned the tremendous importance of getting an education. “She told me, education should be something you would die for,” she said.
- Deborah Cornelison describes her high school science class in Oklahoma as a STEM classroom before teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) was cool. Not only has she been lauded for exceptional, experiential teaching, but Cornelison has been involved in creating authentic professional learning for science teachers. Of the Teacher Hall of Fame award, she said, “I especially value this honor because it values career teachers.”
Those participating in a conversation with these honorees couldn’t have agreed with Cornelison more.
Laurie Calvert is the Department of Education’s Teacher Liaison. Prior to this, she taught for 14 years in Asheville, N.C.