By: Courtney Dabney
Meet 10 people who take seriously their role to provide more than just education to the children entrusted to their care.
| photography by Alex Lepe | Before you read the rest of this article, take a minute to think back on the teachers who had the most profound impact on your life. If you haven’t thanked them, and they are still living, drop them a note. They, in some case more so than our parents, made us what we are today. Our Top Teachers have a combined 203 years of experience. Many have taught in more than one school. Some came to full-time teaching after other careers. All believe in what they do and have a passion to do it well. There are six master’s degrees among them and one doctorate. Several have more than one bachelor’s degree. 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. Not all schools elected to participate. Editors examined the more than 600 nominations received and selected 10 teachers as representative of excellence in teaching. Each teacher selected was then cleared as being worthy with top administration officials in their schools or districts.
Andrew J. Giles
Arlington Heights High School, Fort Worth ISD
Teaches: Art and Photography
Education: The University of North Texas, B.F.A.,
Fine Art Photography
Experience: Seven years; three years at Arlington Heights
Some would say that Andrew Giles teaches art. But he says he teaches creative problem solving. “No matter what you do in life, whether you’re homeless or a CEO, your success will hinge on how well you solve problems creatively,” Giles said. “It’s arguably the most important thing one can learn.”
“He is phenomenal at inspiring his students to learn, grow, think outside the box and be more creative,” says nominator Seychelle Engelhard. The students recognize that as well. “He challenges his students to do their very best, but really motivates them along the way. He’s truly an incredible teacher,” said student Dona Pettigrew. “Every student needs a teacher like him in their lives.” Student Christine Rita said, Giles is “incredibly inspiring.”
Cell phones and their associated applications are a growing concern as well as a teaching opportunity. “I try my best to often use them as a tool, but the addiction is starting to become frightening, even in the last three years,” Giles said. “The culture of the smart phone factory is manufacturing photographers too easily. No matter the age, a person who has an Instagram account often considers himself or herself a photographer. That’s like mowing your lawn and calling yourself a landscaper or following a recipe from the Internet and calling yourself a chef.”
“Mr. Giles is an amazing role model for students. He’s creative, smart, funny and, best of all, gives his students the opportunity to have their own opinion and express themselves however they wish to,” said student Camila Gonzalez.
Terri Tiner Johnson
Southwest Christian School
Education: Abilene Christian University, B.S., Education;
Texas Wesleyan University, M.Ed., Reading
Experience: 31 years; 29 at Southwest Christian
For Terri Johnson, teaching is more than a job; it is a vocation. Her position at faith-based Southwest Christian School allows her to practice her trade in ways that public school teachers cannot. “I am blessed to have a vocation that I consider my ministry as well,” she says. “SCS allows me to prayerfully partner with parents to discover and nurture the talents and gifts God has given their children.”
She teaches kindergarten because she believes that it is foundational to a child’s educational career. “Kindergarten sets the tone for all future learning,” she says. Judging from the comments on her nominations to be a Top Teacher, she has long-lasting impact.
“I was always excited to go to school,” said student Kayla Gilbert. “I still remember the fun lessons we did, and I was in her class 13 years ago.”
Both of Danise Haskins’ daughters were in Johnson’s class. “She is soft spoken, nurturing and so knowledgeable about what it takes to teach young children,” Haskins said. “They learn life-long skills, not only intellectually but socially to succeed in this competitive world. Terri did that for my children, who are now a junior in college and a senior in high school.”
Other teachers note her continued efforts as a learner herself. “She is always finding ways to sharpen her skills through staff development and technology,” says teacher Brenda Holder. “As a second grade teacher, I have seen the fruits of her labor first hand. She has produced students who love school. I am amazed at the facts they recall in science or social studies that they learned in kindergarten.”
Leann Cox Adams
All Saints’ Episcopal School
Teaches: Ancient History
Education: Texas Christian University, B.A., History; TCU,
Other: London School of Economics; Loyola University, Rome; North Texas State University
Experience: 40 years; 11 at All Saints’
Leann Cox is passionate about almost everything she does, but she is especially passionate about teaching the lessons of the ancient world to the leaders of tomorrow’s world. “I hope I instill in them a love of history and a passion for learning about and preserving the past,” Adams said.
History comes alive in her classroom, and teacher after teacher who nominated her mentioned her story-telling abilities. “More than one family has been surprised to find their student is a knowledgeable and talented tour guide after her class,” said teacher Hope Benko. “We hear again and again of family vacations to Europe where the student who just finished Leann’s class taught her whole family about the historical importance of the sights they were seeing.”
Current and former students speak of her impact on their lives. “Leann began making American history come alive over 35 years ago,” said Kelley Maxwell. “She taught me like no other teacher ever has and continues to leave a legacy of love for our country in her present school. She has the remarkable ability to draw in her students with her welcoming arms.”
Student Sienna DelConte says she looks forward to class every day and the engaging stories that Adams tells. “I never thought I could have loved ancient history as much as I do now. Her stories are hilarious, but educational,” DelConte said.
Fort Worth Country Day
Teaches: Second Grade
Education: University of Maryland Baltimore County, B.A.,
Psychology; In process: Texas Christian University, M.Ed.,
Experience: 15 years; eight at Country Day
Jeffrey Rozanski takes the concept of in loco parentis seriously. The phrase is Latin for “in the place of a parent” — a concept developed from English common law and adopted by American schools to describe part of their responsibilities.
“I think it is important to make students feel that they are a part of a family at school, too,” Rozanski said. “In the classroom, I am always looking and talking to my students as both a teacher and a dad. For a variety of reasons, during the school year, there will be days or even weeks when I will see students more than their own moms and dads.”
He teaches in part in honor of other teachers. “I believe that the best school experiences and memories I have are from the wonderful teachers that made learning fun, and I try to honor those teachers by doing the same for my students,” Rozanski said.
“Mr. Rozanski is amazing,” said parent Rachel Werner. “He has been a special gift to his second grade class. Mr. Rozanski gave our normally quiet and shy daughter a real chance to shine at a recent poetry performance. He could have easily chosen the most outgoing child in the class, but instead he saw an opportunity to give a child confidence, and he capitalized on it.”
As are many of our Top Teachers, Rozanski is concerned about the impact technology is having on children and on the teaching experience. “The most challenging aspect of teaching in today’s world is our society’s need for everything to be ‘digital, instant and shared,’ ” he said. “Technology has definitely taken away the element of surprise and first-time experience from teachers.”
As far as advice to parents, they should tell their children and themselves that learning is a process, and it is more important that a child gives 100 percent effort than it is to achieve 100s.
Paul D. Price
Trinity Valley School
Teaches: Honors Chemistry, AP Chemistry, AP Physics C
Education: Southwestern University, Georgetown, B.S.
Chemistry and Mathematics; University of Wisconsin-Madison, M.S. Chemistry
Experience: 17 years; 16 at Trinity Valley
Paul Price worries that students learn at an early age that on many assessments of knowledge, if they can simply regurgitate the information presented to them in class, they will be successful.
“True learning is hard work,” Price said, “and one must be creative in approaching to reach students when so much information is so easily available.” For many students, science and mathematics can be dull and mechanical. “Instead of seeing the machinery of the physical world as the consequences of several profound ideas, they view chemistry and physics as difficult to study disciplines filled with many unrelated concepts that must be memorized,” he said.
The ability to recall information is an important skill, but not the skill that leads to success in the sciences. “As I learned from my parents at an early age, the ability to think critically about concepts is the single most important skill one can learn in formal education,” Price said. “The ability to take an idea, examine it skeptically and through both individual and group work take ownership of the concept is the foundation of life-long learning. The ultimate goal of my teaching is to develop this skill in the context of chemistry and physics.”
Students who nominated him think he has been successful. “Mr. Price is the reason I am poised for success later in my career,” said Collin Davda. “He was the man that taught me to love chemistry and physics. Over the past three years of class, he has made learning fun — gruelingly difficult — but the best part of my high school experience.”
Candy (Laura) Marsh
Trinity Christian Academy
Teaches: First Grade
Education: Tarleton State University, B.S., Elementary Education; Texas Wesleyan University, M.S., Education
Experience: 30 years; five at Trinity Christian Academy
The most challenging aspect of teaching for Candy Marsh is vying for students’ attention and competing with the fast pace of life and the general busyness of modern life. And that’s in first grade.
“I believe today’s students are basically the same and have the same needs and learning styles as those I began teaching 30 years ago, but I do believe their environment and the culture around them has changed so much, which impacts them and molds them greatly,” Marsh said. “They face new and very different challenges.”
She taught for many years in public schools, but now she is in a different environment. “The joy of my life is to get to serve at TCA, where Jesus Christ is the center of all we do, during this season of my teaching career. It is an extraordinary place to teach,” she said.
It is unusual to receive a nomination for a Top Teacher from a student in the lower elementary grades. But student Lucy Stell — with maybe a little help from a parent — nominated Marsh “because she’s nice, kind and smart. She loves me, my family and my friends.” Her favorite part of the day was eating lunch with the teacher and reading. “My first grade year was the best,” Lucy said. “She loves to hug me. She’s my best friend forever. We both love Christ Jesus.”
Marsh has taught two of Jacy Guynes’ three boys. “My boys love her to death. When we see her in church or out in public, they run to her and hug her — even the older one who is in fifth grade now,” Guynes said. “She is like a rock star to them.”
Marsh’s motivation is simple. “I am fulfilling my calling and purpose in life,” she said. “I have always had the heart of a teacher, loved learning and have a passion for teaching primary-aged children.”
Burleson Centennial High School, Burleson ISD
Teaches: English III — American Literature
Education: University of Missouri, B.F.A, B.A., Education
Experience: 13 years; one year at Burleson Centennial
Chris Hopper views teaching as a sacred profession. He hears the comments about low pay and agrees that the compensation could be better. “But, in my opinion, it should never be about money,” he says. When all is said and done, I don’t want to look back at my life and compare it to my bank account. I want to look at the world and know that I’ve made a small impact for the betterment of society.”
Judging from the comments of students who nominated him for Top Teacher, he’s making that impact. “A teacher like Mr. Hopper is rare within public education, and I have never — and will likely never again — have a teacher as great as him,” said student Britt Knox-Harrelson.
Other educators notice, too. “He often teaches students much needed life lessons in addition to the standard curriculum,” Amy-Nicole Frank said. “He cares for his students and has a servant heart.”
Hopper wants to teach personal responsibility as well as English. “I want to help create a whole new generation that doesn’t offer excuses or blame others for their failures,” he said. “I want my students to leave my classroom knowing that they are the ones who create their own world. I want them to know how incredible they are, despite those who have told them that they aren’t smart enough or good enough or any of the other dozen things people do to break others down.”
Student Alyssa Pope calls Hopper “an amazing teacher because he doesn’t give up on students even when there is ‘no hope’ left. Mr. Hopper is not an easy teacher, but he’s a fair teacher and does what is right by himself and his students.”
Dalen Wainwright Raymond
Daggett Montessori, Fort Worth ISD
Teaches: Lower Level (1,2,3)
Education: Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, M.A., B.S., Education; Montessori Certification Lower Level/Upper Level, Houston Montessori Center
Experience: 31 years; 10 at Daggett
Dalen Raymond came from a long line of school teachers, but she never intended to become one because she had seen first hand the extra work it required outside of school hours. But culture intervened.
“I am of the generation where women were encouraged to be a nurse or go into education. I chose education,” she said. And both she and the parents of the children she teaches are glad. “I consider it a privilege that parents trust me to work with their children for three years in providing this whole child approach to education.”
That “inner student” is important to Raymond and a challenge. “The most challenging part of teaching today is the often inability to appeal to a child’s inner soul,” she said. “What I mean by that is the difficulty in teaching a child that is not motivated by simple lessons. Children often do not have an inner peace, calmness and curiosity that is needed to concentrate and absorb information.”
Sally Gulde's son is 7 and in second grade. "Ms. Raymond is an extraordinarily caring teacher who has taken the time to meet the specific needs of my children," Gulde said. "This year, his second year in her class, he is reading at an eighth grade reading level," Gulde said. Her daughter is 9 and in the third level. "Ms. Raymond has taken time to talk to her and encourage her countless times. This year, my daughter joined the student council and participated in the Spelling Bee."
Raymond has high expectations for her students and gets the very best out of all of them, said parent Ashley Dilling. “Children who come out of her classroom have gained a keen understanding of what it is to be responsible for their time, work and actions,” she said.
Paschal High School, Fort Worth ISD
Teaches: Advanced Mathematics, AP Physics and Engineering
Education: University of Missouri-Columbia, B.S., Electrical Engineering, B.S., Computer Engineering, Cum Laude and Honors Scholar; University of Missouri-Columbia, M.S., Electrical Engineering; University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D., Electrical and Computer Engineering
Experience: Five years, all at Paschal
Bret Stewart knew he wanted to teach from the moment he taught his first class as a college student working a third job to make ends meet. But, as so often happens, life intervened. He had decided to get a Ph.D. and teach in a university. “However, industry lured me away from full-time teaching for almost 20 years,” he said. But he decided he would teach high school math and physics when he retired from engineering. “So, now I teach full-time,” he said. “I also think that it would be pretty much squandering the rest of my life if I didn’t do something useful and meaningful with it.”
He’s far from squandering his life, according to student Christian Ortega, who planned to study music education in college before taking one of Stewart’s classes. “The two courses I’ve taken and am taking with him have inspired me to want to be an engineer,” Ortega said. “His ability to take a difficult concept and make it easy is abnormally great and benefits his students. He makes learning not only fun, but he also changes the way we see things.”
Courses he teaches include subjects generally taught at the sophomore or junior levels in college. Stewart takes pride in his top-ranked students who have won multiple honors in UIL competitions in physics, computer science and mathematics, and who have been admitted to top ranked engineering schools. But he takes equal pride in the success of the students who are struggling. “It may be the most meaningful work that I do,” Stewart said.
Teacher Laura Green says Stewart is a role model both for students and other teachers at Paschal. “He teaches before school, he teaches during lunch, and he is here after school to help any student who comes by,” Green said.
Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts
Education: University of Oklahoma, B.B.A.
Experience: 14 years; 12 at Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts
It is a challenge to teach mathematics to the students Anthony Turner faces every day. “Due to the changing educational landscape, today’s students have greater school choice,” Turner said. “My school — Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts — is an outgrowth of this development. Because of the artistic nature of the kids as well as the rigor of their programs, my classes take on a different look and feel. My students are highly creative, and I must be, too.”
He’s proud of two changes he has made in his teaching methodology. “I have learned to shorten my lessons or to just simply shut up,” Turner said. “These changes have enabled me to incorporate community-building and more group projects in my classroom. Bottom line — my students are more relaxed, present and retain remarkably more knowledge over time.”
Parent Sheri Familiari’s daughter took geometry from Turner this year, and he made an amazing difference in her. “Math has never been her best skill, nor has she ever liked it at all,” Familiari said. Turner “found the magic combination to make her artistic brain understand what it needs to do well. She has gone from barely passing to A’s and B’s, all thanks to Mr. Turner taking the time to listen and understand that all children do not learn the same way.”
Parent Jason Mullins echoes that. “When you think of all the things a teacher should be, Mr. Turner fits that mold perfectly. He enjoys what he does. He is patient and kind. He knows how to communicate with his students in a way that they will understand, appreciate and respect. He is loved by all his students,” Mullins said.