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Classroom Stars Baltimore’s Child Recognizes 3 Teachers of the Year

What a great way to kick off the school year: This spring, Baltimore’s Child, put out a call for nominations in our second annual Teachers of the Year contest. Through our website and magazine, we sought nominations and asked students and parents to tell us about the outstanding educators in their lives. We received great responses and picked three teachers — one each in elementary, middle and high school — based on what our readers wrote. Congratulations to each of these teachers, and thank you for the work you do!

Fran Levitt-Higgins
Overlook Elementary School
Pre-K

What her nominators told us:

“She is awesome! She brings so much to her students to help them not just learn but handle life in the most effective ways possible. She loves her students.”
“She is always going above and beyond for her kids. She is an amazing human being that truly cares about the future of her students. She incorporates anything that will help them learn and grow in life.”

What inspired you to teach?

I was inspired to teach initially by my kindergarten teacher Ms. Brown. Her classroom was so much fun, and she thought I was the greatest kid ever (I have learned that this is key — making sure every student feels like they are the absolute best). Then I met Ms. Farrell in middle school and she taught me math could be fun and that I still mattered. Between the two of them, I was destined to be in the classroom.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

If I had to say one thing, it has to be the personal growth I get to witness and take part in each year with so many children. Over the past few years, I have made social-emotional awareness and mental health focuses for the classroom. Developing new techniques alongside the children is so incredibly rewarding. Seeing them use these techniques when in difficult situations, like fear in a shelter in place drill or after a bad fall, that makes it all worth it.

How do you keep things fresh in the classroom?

Keeping things fresh is something I pride myself in. Each year, I do my best to determine my students’ primary intelligence through play and informal assessments. From there, I make sure each lesson allows for engagement on all modalities, whether my students are kinesthetic, auditory or visual learners, and we take it from there. The students are always driving the inquiry, and my job is to help shape that inquiry and allow them to create meaning with it … what a gift!

Katherine Airey
Bel Air Middle School
8th-Grade Language Arts

What her nominators told us:

“She challenges her students while also maintaining a high level of support for her students. She identifies the strengths and weaknesses of her students and incorporates them into the lessons.”
“She always makes class fun, and she interacts with the students. She is not one of those boring teachers; she pumps us up and makes us feel alive.”

“She is a motivational person and always brings good energy into the classroom. She also understands each student’s situations outside of school. She is very flexible and fair in her grading. This teacher is also very kind and full of energy.”

What inspired you to teach?

I come from a family of educators and have always had a desire to help those around me. I have never pictured myself doing anything else but teaching.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I enjoy having unlimited possibilities to influence students, imparting to them the excitement of learning, the passion of discovery and the magic of an inquisitive mind.

How do you keep things fresh in the classroom?

I am always willing to try new things, take risks, and I understand the importance of humor and flexibility in the classroom.

Ashley Jennings
Franklin High School
English and SAT Prep

What her nominators told us:

“Mrs. Jennings has been an amazing support system for not only myself, but all of her students. She also finds a way to make class fun and engaging every single day. There has never been a dull moment when she’s around. She is hands down the best teacher I have ever had.”

“Mrs. Jennings makes everyone feel comfortable with who they are. She will go out of her way to make her students happy and understand what they’re learning. She makes sure everyone is understanding by relating it to something important in our lives. There need to be more people like her in the learning community.”

What inspired you to teach?

After high school, I served in the Air Force as a linguist. My work with language was complex, and my training was intense. But I realized during my enlistment that I hadn’t thought about my own language until I looked at it from another language, from that outside point of view. Studying the patterns and nuance of another language made the beauty of English clear to me. It was a quick leap to wanting to explore language with kids looking to find ways to express themselves. I meet students every day who are smarter and more talented than I could ever dream of being. My job is to share examples of expert writers and show them how to use a few tools, then step back and watch. I learn as much as I teach on most days.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

My favorite moments are the moments when a student realizes something they had known but never really considered from a fresh or deeper angle. The English 10 curriculum revolves around world literature, so encouraging my students to find common ground with Holocaust survivors, medieval Scottish nobles or Afro-Latina poets from modern-day New York City has been my main delight. At the center of it all, it’s always one person using their voice to tell their story. My enjoyment comes from sharing and discussing these stories along with what makes them compelling, then guiding and appreciating how my students find their voices to begin telling their own stories.

How do you keep things fresh in the classroom?

My students keep things fresh in the classroom. Every week they are buzzing about a new show on Netflix, an innovative portmanteau or a shiny new album of the year. I keep things fresh by welcoming and embracing all the roiling, unexpected and heartfelt freshness of the world that my students live in.

About Adranisha Stephens

When Adranisha Stephens isn’t chasing down a story, she is traveling, blogging, photographing or spending time with family and friends. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Frostburg State University and a master’s degree in journalism/digital storytelling from American University.

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