Maryland teacher and National Education Association (NEA) member Michelle Shearer was named the 2011 National Teacher of the Year by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on National Teacher Day. Shearer, a chemistry teacher at Urbana High School in Ijamsville, Md., was awarded the prestigious title because of her commitment to helping children who have traditionally been underrepresented in science and for her innovative approaches to technology and teacher-student interactions in the classroom. She will serve for one year as a full-time national and international spokesperson for public education.
“Michelle Shearer teaches science to minorities, women, and students with disabilities,” President Obama said today. “She helps awaken the scientist within.”
Shearer and all of the 2011 State Teachers of the Year were recognized by President Obama in today’s ceremony. The other finalists (named by the Council of Chief State School Officers), all NEA members, are Annice Brave, a high school English and journalism teacher at Alton High School in Alton, Illinois; Cheryl Conley, a fourth grade teacher at Osceola Magnet Elementary School in Vero Beach, Florida; and Paul Andersen, a ninth through twelfth grade biology teacher at Bozeman High School in Bozeman, Montana.
“On behalf of NEA and its 3.2 million members, I want to congratulate Michelle on being named National Teacher of the Year,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Michelle is a great example of how teachers transform the lives of their students every day, engaging them and creating enthusiasm for learning. Her extraordinary passion and never-ending search to find captivating ways of teaching science have undoubtedly inspired her students to realize their potential and achieve their dreams.”
Shearer is a 14-year veteran of Maryland public schools, has taught all levels of chemistry and started the Advanced Placement chemistry course at her school.
Shearer says the honor provides her with an “incredible opportunity to advocate students, represent teachers, and draw positive attention to our collective efforts in public education.”
Shearer’s teaching methods rely heavily on real-life applications of scientific concepts. “When students feel connected not only to the teacher but to the subject itself,” she says, “they quickly become eager to explore.”
“Technology and teaching strategies certainly enhance my efforts, but my recognition of the power of human connection seems to have the most profound effect on my students’ achievement.”
Urbana High School’s Principal, Kathy Campagnoli, said Shearer understands the critical connections between what is learned in the classroom and student’s daily lives.
“She is not only interested in stimulating a science student to become a more critical thinker and creative problem-solver,” Campagnoli wrote in her letter to the Council of Chief State School Officers recommending Shearer for the award, “but also in a broader picture of fostering a student’s skills along with emotional and/or psychological health.”
In between two teaching stints at Urbana High School, Shearer also taught science and math at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick.
“Use your energy and personal spark to ‘jump-start’ your students’ efforts,” Shearer advises her fellow teachers. “Passion is infectious, and a teacher inspires students to learn in profound ways that the most advanced computer or technology cannot.”