Penns Valley Area educator up for Teacher of the Year award

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When a list of finalists comes out each year for Teacher of the Year awards, you can bet someone from Penns Valley Area School District will be on it.

Last year, Dina Howell and Michele Shawver were honored as finalists.

12 finalists in the running for state Teacher of the Year award

They were among 12 total finalists from about 500 school districts in the commonwealth.

Penns Valley Area also boasts the 2012 state Teacher of the Year with Tricia Miller.

And this year, ninth-grade English teacher Jill Geesey is up for the award that will be announced in December.

The state Department of Education released the list of finalists last week.

The teachers were nominated by students, parents, colleagues and members of the community who recognized their achievements in and outside of the classroom, a report from the state DOE said.

“Every day, teachers are making a difference in the lives of their students in communities across the commonwealth,” education Secretary Pedro Rivera said in a statement. “The Department of Education applauds this year’s finalists, who represent the commitment and professionalism that so many Pennsylvania educators share.”

Geesey was nominated by Penns Valley Area High School Principal Dustin Dalton, and Assistant Superintendent Sherri Connell.

But she attributes her success to those she works with.

I’m honored, but I am one small piece of the puzzle. It really takes a village, but I’m only as effective as the teachers I teach with, the administration I have, the support from parents, and all the students.

Jill Geesey, Penns Valley Area English teacher

“I’m honored, but I am one small piece of the puzzle,” Geesey said. “It really takes a village, but I’m only as effective as the teachers I teach with, the administration I have, the support from parents, and all the students.”

Along with getting nominated, Geesey also had to submit an application and undergo a series of essays and video submissions.

Geesey has worked in the district for 29 years

Originally from York County, Geesey said she now lives in the Penns Valley area and has been teaching at the high school for 29 years.

“I love my job,” she said. “I love coming to work.”

She said education has changed in the past three decades.

“Technology is definitely a factor to that,” Geesey said.

Each student in her class has access to their own laptops, which Geesey said allows students to “be on the same page” with curriculum.

When she started, school was focused on “teacher-centered classrooms” that had students sit at a desk and be lectured, Geesey said.

At the time, the high school at Penns Valley had 50-minute periods.

The school eventually switched to 80-minute blocks and became more “project based,” Geesey said.

“With that, it’s hard to keep kids engaged for that long, so there needed to be a change,” she said.

Now, Geesey said, teachers put an emphasis on “learning-focused” classrooms, which allow students to think more critically, and allow students to be more interactive with class lessons.

“We ask more stimulating questions, and it lets students have more than one answer,” Geesey said. “There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer with some of it.”

And in her class, students aren’t just reading a book and writing a report.

Geesey said in her honors English class, for instance, she assigns three books for students to read during the summer. The books assigned are on a list of banned or challenged books that include “The Hunger Games,” “The Call of the Wild,” “Animal Farm,” and “The House on Mango Street.”

Students are then able to role-play, and participate in a panel discussion and debate.

“We assign them different characters to be during a debate, like a teacher or librarian, and they have to argue the question and answers based on their role from that perspective,” Geesey said.

One of the debate questions discuss why students think the assigned summer books are on the “challenged list,” Geesey said.

“So it’s more interactive and a way for them to think from the perspective of others,” she said. “Education has changed, but at Penns Valley we make sure they’re getting the best.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

2017 Pa. Teacher of the Year finalists:

▪ Patricia Cekella, Pine-Richland School District

▪ Jill Geesey, Penns Valley Area School District

▪ Megan Henry, Lower Merion School District

▪ Lyndsay Levengood, Brandywine Heights Area School District

▪ Sandra Lin, Rose Tree Media School District

▪ Allison Mackley, Derry Township Area School District

▪ Katherine Meucci, Bethel Park School District

▪ Colleen Reiner, Manheim Central School District

▪ Phoebe Simmington, Rose Tree Media School District

▪ Emily Smoller, Bethel Park School District

▪ Michael Soskil, Wallenpaupack Area School District

▪ Julie Weaver, Southern Tioga School District

Pa. Department of Education