Teaching skills are important. So is education and experience in the classroom. But the unifying theme running through nominations for Fort Worth, Texas 2013 Top Teachers was concern for students beyond the academic part of the job.
The 10 teachers selected for 2013 have plenty of experience — 203 years among them. And they have plenty of education — collectively they hold five masters degrees and two doctorate degrees.
But over and over, nominators — especially parents and students — spoke of the individual attention their favorite teacher gives. They were especially grateful that teachers were open and available to counsel young people in life skills and through the often-traumatic experience of teenage years.
The teachers spoke about their love of the profession and the responsibility they feel to guide students through school with skills that will make them good and responsible citizens long after formal schooling is over. They fret about lack of time, what they see as excessive standardized testing and laws written by well-intentioned legislators who have no direct experience in the classroom.
|How we did it: Public school districts and private schools were asked to publicize the nomination process, and we also solicited nominations via email, on our website and in the magazine. Editors examined the more than 800 nominations received and selected 10 teachers as representative of excellence in teaching. Each teacher selected was then cleared with top administration officials in their schools or districts.|
William A. Shelton
Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth
Teaches: Advanced Placement United States History; Government; British History
Education: B.A., Texas Christian University; M.A., University of Kentucky; M. Divinity, Brite Divinity School, TCU; Ph.D., University of Kentucky
Experience: 39 years (29 at Trinity Valley)
When Bill Shelton — called Doc by all who know him — finished his Ph.D., he planned to teach in college. For 29 years, parents and students at Trinity Valley School have been glad he couldn’t find a job. “I made a decision to go into private school education, and I have never regretted it,” he says.
He’s well-respected nationally, serving as a consultant for the Advanced Placement program of the College Board since 1991. For the last nine years, he’s been one of three high school teachers and four college professors who serve on the committee that constructs the national U.S. History Advanced Placement exams.
“My role as a teacher is to help [students] build foundations upon which they will stand as they become leaders of and participants in an amazingly complex world,” Shelton says. But not just in the classroom. He coached basketball for 22 years from seventh grade through varsity. And he coached high school track for 14 years.
Says parent Laurie Topham, “Top teacher, AP guru, consultant, confidant, department chair, coach, class sponsor, mentor, friend — frequently used words to describe Dr. William ‘Doc’ Shelton.”
Carroll Senior High School, Carroll ISD
Education: B.M.E, Texas Christian University (Summa Cum Laude); M.M.E., TCU
Experience: Three years (one at Carroll Senior High School)
For Marla Ringel, teaching is more than notes and rests and musical scales. “In choir, I have the opportunity to teach through the relationships I have developed with my students,” she says. “It is incredible to see them grow and mature not only in their musical artistry, but also as young adults. This is absolutely the most rewarding part of my job.”
There are frustrations and concerns, too. “Fine arts educators across the state of Texas are fighting to justify funding for our programs and curriculum,” she says. “There are countless studies that prove correlations between higher level cognitive function and productivity of students involved in fine arts, and yet the arts are usually one of the first items in consideration for cuts.”
“My daughter only talks about becoming a choir teacher like Ms. Ringel,” said Vibha Tyagi. “Teachers are a source of positive inspiration, and they are the reason, next to home environment, that students fail or succeed in later years of their lives.”
“I love establishing an atmosphere that encourages creative learning, but also pushes the boundaries of my students’ abilities,” Ringel says.
Student Zenith Hakemy says Ringel “is an excellent teacher who knows how to communicate with students and makes each learning experience one worth learning.”
All Saints’ Episcopal School
Teaches: Fourth Grade
Education: B.S., Tarleton State University
Experience: 40 years (38 at All Saints’)
This is a bittersweet school year for Bettina Herndon — her last after four decades in the classroom, mostly at All Saints’ Episcopal School. Her emotions are mixed.
“I will miss the children and all of the wonderful parents, but I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” she says. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher at All Saints’ and she and her sister were students there. “Little did I know then that I would return as a teacher myself,” she says.
But generations of students and parents are glad that she did. “I was a student — second grade — in Bettina’s very first class she ever taught. She was a great teacher. Both of my children had her for fourth grade. Same great experience for both of them. What a wonderful multigenerational experience she has provided for my family and many others,” says Scott Neely.
“She combines kindness and nurturing with discipline and expertise,” says parent Elizabeth Caruthers. “Because of her, my daughter loves history, and as a direct result of having Ms. Herndon, my daughter is more confident socially and academically than she ever had been before.”
Fine Arts Academy,
White Settlement ISD
Teaches: Third grade
Education: B.S., Texas A&M University (Magna Cum Laude)
Experience: Seven years (five at Fine Arts Academy)
Anne McCarty, both the White Settlement ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year and the Fine Arts Academy Teacher of the Year in 2013, wants her students to know the joy of learning. “I want to inspire them to dream big and reach their goals and to do it with integrity and graciousness,” she says.
She is passionate about teaching to the learning styles and needs of each student, says Barbara Owen. “Anne McCarty has taught my grandson, who has learning differences. She was very patient and creative with him, helping him to improve his reading skills,” she said.
“Of all the teachers I have worked with over a 34-year career, she is the best at the art of teaching I have ever seen,” says Brenda Vandiver, the Curriculum/Testing coordinator, at McCarty’s school. “Children love her, as well as their parents.”
In her off hours, McCarty is a community volunteer through the Junior League of Fort Worth. “We all want our students to be responsible and caring citizens,” she says, “and we must model civic responsibility for them and lead by example.”
Southwest Christian School
Teaches: Honors/Dual Credit Bible
Education: Ed.D, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; M.A., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; M.S., Abilene Christian University; B.S., Missouri State University
Experience: Seven years
For Dr. Lesli Welch, teaching is about challenging students and preparing them for future service. “It is … exciting to help students become Christian leaders who make an impact on society and the world,” she says.
Students, parents and other teachers say it works. Jodi Moore says her daughter reports that “Dr. Welch really challenges students to think, rather than just spout popular rhetoric, and she is always pushing students to approach ideas and situations in new ways.”
“It is very easy to learn from her because she has the ability to make almost any topic a joy to learn,” said student Aiden Smith. And she is creative. “In one class, she suddenly started acting out a monologue from a Biblical character’s point of view to help bring a concept to life,” said student Julie Johnson.
But academics are only part of it. “Both of my children have confided in her when they have had normal teenage issues with high school, and she has always made time for them,” says parent Bruce Smith.
Welch oversees required community service at the school. “One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is observing the change that takes place in students’ lives as they become involved in working with other people,” she said.
Tanglewood Elementary, Fort Worth ISD
Education: Attended the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University
Experience: Two years (one at Tanglewood)
Anthony Deschaine is in only his second year of teaching and his first year at Tanglewood, but he has drawn instant acclaim from the families of his little charges.
“I have never seen such support for a teacher from students and parents. Mr. Deschaine has made a significant difference in the kindergarten class he teaches. The kids love him and it shows,” says Shannon Pilgrim.
“Mr. Deschaine has had the best impact on my child, Kate. She loves going to school and misses school over the weekend. I am amazed at how much she has learned and grown this year,” says Rhonda Rich.
Nissa Harrington says that at a parent-teacher conference Deschaine gave specific examples of where her son was doing well. “He also gave us specific examples of things to work on at home to assist with the areas that need improvement. He had set realistic tangible goals for our son,” she said.
Deschaine became a teacher later in life after a tour in the Army and some civilian jobs, a decision he attributes to his experiences with his 10-year-old daughter, Damaris.
“Through the year, I develop a parental role and obligation to my students as they become part of my life, and through that, I am able to build strong relationships with my students and their families,” he said.
Lily B. Clayton Elementary, Fort Worth ISD
Teaches: Second Grade
Education: Elementary Education, Texas Wesleyan University; M.Ed., Texas Christian University
Experience: 35 years (30 at Lily B.)
Gloria Daniels talks about teaching children to think outside the box. Parents like that.
“Step into her classroom at any time during the day, and there is excitement in the air,” says parent Jennifer Ledbetter. “Her exuberance carries over to her students, encouraging them to think outside of the box, inside the box, under the box, and then, how can you make the box a circle?”
Daniels says it is rewarding to provide children with new knowledge and show them how it connects to big ideas. “I also love to teach children in realistic and engaging ways by using hands-on activities that help them learn on a conceptual level. It allows them to understand knowledge on a deeper level. Problem solving and thinking ‘out of the box’ promotes creativity and taking risks. This, too, is rewarding for me.”
“She consistently goes above and beyond,” says parent Heather Junker. “She arrives early and stays late. She pushes her students to improve and honors creativity.”
Technology and the speed of society make it difficult for children to slow down enough to think about their thinking, Daniels said. “It’s not a problem without a solution,” she says. “We just have to find ways and time to do both things well.”
Liberty Elementary in Keller ISD
Education: B.A., Boise State University
Experience: 10 years (six at Liberty)
Reagan Dickeson cites a common complaint among school teachers. She says it is both her biggest challenge and her biggest frustration.
“Our job as teachers is never done. No matter how hard I work or how many hours I put in, there is always something left unfinished. The saying that it takes a village to raise a child is the truth,” Dickeson said.
But there are rewards that offset the frustrations. “As a kindergarten teacher, you’re their very first teacher, which is such a special honor. Their joy, love of learning and never-ending energy is such an inspiration to me and makes every day special and different. The relationships you form with your students and their families are one of a kind.”
Parent Marie Whitfield is an example. “Mrs. Dickeson has helped my child overcome severe anxiety, and she’s not even my child’s current teacher,” she said. Dickeson sends her child encouraging notes, checks in on her and makes her feel really special and loved. “She goes above and beyond and then some. She is the sunshine in everyone’s day.”
Fort Worth Country Day
Teaches: First Grade
Education: B.S., Texas Tech and Hardin-Simmons University; Special education graduate work, TCU and Texas Woman’s University
Experience: 40 years (22 at Country Day)
Sheri Fuller points out that you can’t have a bad day in first grade. “I love to inspire in young children the belief that every day should be the best day of your life,” she says. “To see the joy they feel as they learn to read or discover a new way to solve a math problem or simply pull their first tooth is reason to celebrate.”
She’s been in the classroom for 40 years — more than half of that at Country Day.
“Mrs. Fuller is sweet, patient and always listens to each and every student,” says Alavala Harshi. “My son is a fast learner, and she encourages him more in the class by giving him advanced learning material. My son totally enjoys it.”
“Apart from academics, she teaches kids how to be responsible citizens as they grow up. Kids totally love her,” Harshi said.
For Fuller, the most rewarding part of teaching is “watching children fall in love with learning and express their desire to wake up every morning ready to come to school.”
“It is rewarding to see the way that they show compassion for one another and see each other through the innocent eyes of childhood,” she said.
Aledo High School
Education: B.M.E., Texas Tech University; M.Ed., Texas Christian University
Experience: 20 years
For Joey Paul, it is about more than marching and instruments. That’s just a means to an end. “I use music as a vehicle to provide student leadership,” Paul says.
“His impact is felt beyond just fine arts,” says Dr. Doug Funk, assistant principal at Aledo High School. “His work improves the quality of the educational experiences and lives of everyone in our community. His energy is unending, and his professionalism is unsurpassed. Aledo High School is a better place because he is here.”
He’s been at Aledo his entire teaching career.
“I enjoy a life of music and have always enjoyed working with young students to prepare them for the ‘real world,’ and hopefully a life-long appreciation of music,” Paul said.
“Paul tirelessly gives his time and energy to ensure that the students in his band program reach their potential musically and personally,” says Funk.
Paul frets about the amount of classroom time lost because of mandatory testing and about “not having enough help and resources for teaching our most precious resource, our kids.”