An apple for teacher may have just become obsolete.
Penns Valley Area School District faculty Dina Howell and Michele Shawver have been named finalists for the 2015 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year after months of nominations, applications and some really long essays.
In other words, earnest students looking to make an impression should probably start thinking about pastries or gift baskets.
While the teachers may be divided by location — Howell works in the seventh- and eighth-grade reading workshop at Penns Valley Area High School and Shawver teaches fourth grade at Miles Township Elementary — they are united by a more personalized approach to education that favors the individual needs of each and every student.
Their nominations place them closely on the heels of Tricia Miller, an English teacher at Penns Valley High School and the 2012 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.
“Having had Michele as a student when she was a senior, I am very proud of her candidacy from both a colleague and a former teacher’s perspectives as she represents the success Penns Valley’s students are capable of achieving,” Miller said. “As a fellow language arts department member of Dina’s, I am also extremely proud of her candidacy as she has the ability to help students reach not only their potential in reading but their personal potential as well.”
This is the second time Howell has been nominated as a potential Teacher of the Year candidate, and her immediate instinct was to decline the offer as she had done previously, feeling that the entire process was too far outside of her comfort zone. At the urging of her family, she reconsidered.
“I believe that things happen for a reason,” Howell said.
Still, it wouldn’t be an education award without a little bit of homework.
Once Howell and Shawver accepted their nominations, they found themselves on the business end of several essay prompts that ranged in topic from their commitment to the local community to the current issues facing public education.
“I looked at it as an opportunity for us as a school district to talk about and show what we’re doing here,” Shawver said.
While writing about issues of importance to public education, Shawver chose to dissect the impact of new technology, high-stakes testing and addressing the ever-diverse needs of students.
In her own classroom, Shawver makes an effort to get to know her students as people, placing a premium on understanding and appreciating one another’s differences.
Learning about a student’s interests both in and outside of school can help Shawver decide how to best engage their attention.
“Meeting the goals of each student is the challenge of education,” Shawver said.
Her appreciation for her students’ individuality resonates with Howell as well.
Howell, who was a special education teacher for 22 years, works with students on individualized skills like note taking, study strategies and writing. She enjoys teaching in junior high and the Penns Valley district.
“I’ve worked a lot of places in my 26 years and this is a great place to work,” Howell said.
Like Shawver, Howell was able to use the application process to address issues that are important to her, including standardized testing, a trend in public education she thinks is not good for students.
“Our kids are so much more than a test score,” Howell said.
A final decision regarding the identity of the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year won’t be announced until December, and the two finalists from Penns Valley still have a lot of work to do.
Each has made a video of herself teaching a lesson and recorded a message to college students preparing to enter the profession.
“It’ll all shake out like it’s supposed to,” Howell said.