In the Classroom

10 IPS finalists could earn one of four $25,000 teaching prizes

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Hubbard Life-Changing Teacher Award winners Tina Ahren, Deb Wolinsky, Rhonda Pierre and Cynthia Hartshorn at last year's awards dinner.

Ten Indianapolis Public Schools teachers have the chance to win $25,000 for their work in the classroom and their efforts to help their students improve their lives.

The finalists for the Hubbard Life-Changing Teacher Award were picked from 161 applicants. Four will win the top prize, and the remaining six will receive $1,000 each at the awards dinner on May 27 at the Eiteljorg Museum.

The finalists are:

  • Dave Davies, Emma Donnan Middle School
  • Laura DeHart, School 107
  • Ann Mennonno, School 27
  • Donna Pope-Green, Northwest High School
  • Apple Quick, Project SITE
  • Melissa Scherle, School 14
  • Marleen Signer, McFarland School
  • Roslyn Stradford, Shortridge High School
  • Angela Tipton, Key Learning Community School
  • Doris Young, Broad Ripple High School

The awards are the brainchild of Al and Kathy Hubbard, Indianapolis philanthropists and supporters of education causes. They were moved to find a way to honor Indianapolis Public Schools teachers after reading a newspaper column about an inspiring IPS teacher, Jamie Kalb, who who helped turn around the life of one her most troubled students. She was the first winner.

The Hubbards then set out to find and honor more teachers like Kalb with what they intend to be annual awards they have pledged to support financially for at least three years. Working with the United Way and their family foundation, they select reviewers who choose the finalists.

Tina Ahlgren, Cynthia Hartshorn, Rhonda Pierre and Deb Wolinsky won the award in 2014.

“We are thrilled to honor 10 phenomenal educators,” said Al Hubbard, who is the chairman of E & A Companies, an Indianapolis-based business. “These teachers have a tremendous impact on the lives of their students and represent the best of what we hope for in the classroom today.”

The selection panel considered how the teachers teach in the classroom as well as how they affect their students’ lives outside of it. The panel looked at videos of teachers in the classroom and held separate interviews with nominees.

“Thanks to the Hubbards, we are able to give these peak performing educators the respect and recognition they so richly deserve.” United Way CEO Ann Murtlow said in a statement.

How I Teach

From bikes to blue hair: how one Denver kindergarten teacher shares his passion with students

Andres Pazo, a kindergarten teacher at Denver's Maxwell Elementary, with his class.

How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in this series here.

Andres Pazo, a kindergarten teacher in an ESL Spanish class at Denver’s Maxwell Elementary School, doesn’t do things halfway. Before Denver Broncos home games, he’ll come to school with his face and hair painted orange and navy. For holidays or school book fairs, he wears full themed costumes. A passionate cyclist, he dresses in professional cycling gear to teach bike safety to children.

Pazo, who colleagues say has a smile for everyone he meets, received one of Denver Public Schools’ four Leadership Lamp awards last summer.

He talked with Chalkbeat about the teachers who inspired him to enter the field, why he uses secret codes to get his students’ attention, and how he gets to know students before school starts.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Why did you become a teacher?
I’m from Caracas, Venezuela, and decided to become a teacher during my last year in my country. For all the universities that I applied to, I put elementary education as my first choice, and I got accepted.

During high school, I had some teachers that impacted my life — I think because they taught with their hearts and reached mine. Hector Zamora was my geography teacher in college. He didn’t care about scores. He just wanted us to know, love, and feel geography. Also, I can add Evelia Mujica, my eighth grade biology teacher. She was super-strict and funny, but in the end, I think she just wanted us to love and really know about biology. These two still inspire me every single day to be a good teacher.

What does your classroom look like?
My classroom is a room where my students feel safe and loved, and where they try hard all year long. It’s also messy, and you can see many masks and hats that I use to engage my students in lessons, and, of course, their projects throughout the year.

Fill in the blank. I couldn’t teach without my _____. Why?
Motivation. It is what keeps me thinking of activities, projects, lessons, and ideas so my students enjoy anything that they need to learn.

What is one of your favorite lessons to teach? How did you come up with the idea?
My favorite lesson to teach is a writing unit at the end of the year, called “All About.” I always bring in things that I love — like my bikes — and write about them. I let students write about any small moment: about something that they love, the food their parents make, a family trip, a family visiting them, a good or sad day … anything they would like to share. They usually bring in their favorite toys.

The students’ writing is amazing because they apply everything they’ve been learning. They try so hard to write everything about their toys. You can hear them sharing their stories with others, and their pictures are incredible. Writing is a good indicator of how much they have grown during the school year.

How do you respond when a student doesn’t understand your lesson?
I sit with him or her after the lesson is taught and work on the skill that needs to be mastered.

How do you get your class’s attention if students are talking or off task?
I use a lot of “secret codes” with my students. For example, when I say “mustache code,” they put a finger across their upper lips. They can be working, reading, or playing, and when I say it, I have 100 percent of students’ attention right away.

How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them? What questions do you ask or what actions do you take?
It starts before the first day of class. I usually write letters to them or do home visits. I take the first two weeks of school to get to know them and what they like to do. I take time to welcome them so they can feel safe and confident in the classroom.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.
When I was working at Denver Center for International Studies at Ford, we started a home visiting program. We first thought parents didn’t have time for us or that they didn’t want to take the time. But, once we started making the calls and found that parents wanted us to come, we understood that parents didn’t know about the program. After that, some parents became more involved in their kids’ education and with the school.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
A lot of mountain bike reviews about bicycles, parts, or trails to ride.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Never change my personality.

First Person

This Betsy DeVos-inspired Twitter thread recounts the ups and downs (but mostly ups) of one school’s Common Core shift

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Noah Mackert with one of his former students in 2015.

When U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proclaimed in a major speech Tuesday that “Common Core is a disaster” and “dead” at the federal education department, something stirred in Noah Mackert.

Mackert, a former New York City educator now living in Massachusetts, recalled that the standards had prompted anything but a disaster at his school after New York rolled them out in 2011. So he took to Twitter to share the story of what it was like when Democracy Prep, the charter network where he worked and now consults, made the transition.

“I know that many Americans on the right and the left have negative associations with the phrase ‘Common Core,’ even if they’ve never seen the standards,” Mackert told Chalkbeat. (He sits on our Reader Advisory Board.) “I have been carrying around quite an alternative narrative about the Common Core, and I felt moved to share it.”

In 17 tweets, Mackert describes how teachers at his school overhauled their assignments to fulfill the standards’ demand that students be able to identify, analyze, and cite evidence from their reading. After students bombed the first round of exams tied to the standards despite those efforts, he writes, teachers made their own tests even more challenging as well. More importantly, he says, they started putting ideas, not isolated reading or math skills, front and center in their lessons.

“In a real way, the Common Core tests were so difficult that they forced us to stop trying to prepare for them so directly,” Mackert writes. “It was terrifying, at first. Then liberating.”

Despite DeVos’s proclamation, the Common Core is still alive and well in many states, even if its name has changed. Mackert said that reality had inspired him, as well.

“I wanted to show that even if the term ‘common core’ is never used again, much of the standards themselves remain, especially in NY where the standards were only lightly revised and rebranded,” he told Chalkbeat.

You can read his whole thread below.