This isn’t the Oscars, but it comes close for 20 Delaware teachers.
At a Dover Downs Hotel and Casino presentation Oct. 25, teachers chosen by districts statewide will find out who will be Delaware’s next Teacher of the Year.
Nominations start at the school level. The nominees compete for the district title.
While the objectives of each teacher are the same, molding future leaders, they each have their own story to tell. And on Oct. 25, one of those stories will come to the forefront. We talked to some of the finalists about why they became a teacher and the challenges facing teachers and education today.
Why did you decide to become an educator?Heather Melvin, Lake Forest School District
The biggest influence for me to become a teacher was the students themselves. Working as a paraprofessional in a kindergarten classroom ignited a fire within me to teach and to challenge and inspire these young students.
I want to keep challenging them and see that they are excelling at what we were doing.
They inspired me as much as I was trying to inspire them.Julie Hickman, Milford School District
My life experiences led me into this position. I grew up in a small town outside New York City and status was everything. I hated school, and my family life wasn’t exactly the best. I felt like the lowest on the totem pole compared to my friends.
When I was in fourth grade my teacher was unbelievable. She took the time to get to know me and I don’t think another teacher had done that in my years prior to fourth grade.Jennifer McCutchan, Smyrna School District
I grew up in a family of people that just loved music. I grew up on the old classics like Frank Sinatra and Harry James. I just loved how instruments created sounds and I loved the sound of singers’ voices. I just had a passion for music at a young age.
I liked the idea of being able to go to kids and push for them to be the best musicians they can be. That passion is what led me to becoming a teacher.Michele Johnson, Capital School District
I was working as a librarian at Wesley College. My son was in first grade and having a lot of trouble in school. He had a teacher that had training in autism. I did a classroom observation and she was an extraordinary teacher — she made me fall in love with my child again. She was the kind of person who saw a child based on their strengths and really celebrated their strengths.
That was a pivotal moment for me, and I thought I wished every child could have something like this.Melissa Rapp, Caesar Rodney School District
I had some pretty amazing educators in middle school. They really helped find a sense of belonging. They took an interest in me as a person and that was something that I really needed when I was in school. I’m one of five and I’m the oldest so it was kind of easy to get lost in the shuffle.
Teachers are the people that our kids see every single day and I think that has a pretty powerful impact on them, and who they become and the decisions they make.Melissa Grise, Indian River School District
I knew I wanted to do something that had impact. After a year of changing my major multiple times I thought ‘let’s give it a try.’
Once I went through three different science majors I felt I was missing that passion. So I went back to what I originally wanted to be when I was a kid.
Sometimes getting to that end point is not that perfect road. And for me that happened that first year in college.Dennis Haley, Polytech High School
I didn’t start out with the plan to become a high school teacher, but now that I am a teacher, I think it is one of the most satisfying and rewarding careers I’ve had. After years of working in the information technology industry, an opportunity presented itself to me to become a teacher of IT certification courses at the high school level. Becoming certified as a Career and Technical Education teacher, I was able to harness all of my experiences and share my expertise with my students, facilitating their journey to become IT professionals.Jennifer McCutchan, Smyrna School District
I grew up in a family of people that just loved music. I grew up on the old classics like Frank Sinatra and Harry James. I just loved how instruments created sounds and I loved the sound of singer’s voices. I just had a passion for music at a young age.
I liked the idea of being able to go to kids and push for them to be the best musicians they can be. That passion is what led me to becoming a teacher.
What do you think are the most significant challenges facing teachers today?Heather Melvin, Lake Forest School District
Parent involvement. It is crucial that we get parents who come into the classroom and realize what we do and that we need their help as well.
Communication is the biggest key. The more teachers communicate with these parents the more involved they will feel.Jennifer McCutchan, Smyrna School District
The major challenge is probably scheduling. Core course material takes precedence over the fine arts, so it gets pushed to the side a little bit. But I think that the arts are so vital to the core subject areas because it really enhances those classes.
Nowadays education focuses a lot of attention on math and science.Michele Johnson, Capital School District
The amount of need that exists in any high need school is a challenge. All of the teachers here, including me, are working so hard to meet academic, social, emotional needs, mental health needs and physical health needs of our students.
Things that are so simple, like if a student needs glasses and the nurse brings in a van where they do eye screenings. Those are just really simple things, but they are so important when you think about the impact that has on a child’s ability to access their academic life.
I just wish that every child that we teach had everything they need. It’s very overwhelming sometimes.Melissa Rapp, Caesar Rodney School District
Trying to balance it all and be good at it all. Being in the classroom and being a powerful educator is our most important job, but there are so many other things that we have to deal with at the same time.
Any good teacher will tell you it bleeds into our personal lives as well. It can be all consuming.Melissa Grise, Indian River School District
It’s a challenge finding the balance between teaching the child and managing the pressures and expectations that are put on teachers.
Sometimes teachers can bring that into the classroom and students can tell.Julie Hickman, Milford School District
There are quite a few challenges. One of them is definitely the emotional baggage that students come into our classrooms with. Because we are not just teachers, we are counselors to them. It’s not just teaching that we’re doing, it is so much more. They might have other issues going on, but you still have high expectations for them because without those high expectations they are never going to rise to the occasion.Dennis Haley, POLYTECH High School
As we continue to add more curriculums with rigor and relevance to the current job market, it is challenging to strike a balance between current trends and future needs. We are training our students for jobs that may not even exist today so it is important that part of our teaching is how to cultivate life-long learning skills in our students.Jennifer McCutchan, Smyrna School District
The major challenge is probably scheduling. Core course material takes precedents over the fine arts so it gets pushed to the side a little bit. But I think that the arts are so vital to the core subject areas because it really enhances those classes.
Nowadays education focuses a lot of attention on math and science.