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What's Up Magazine

What's Up? Teachers Eastern Shore

Jan 06, 2014 11:52AM ● By Cate Reynolds
In one way or another, all teachers impact students, playing an integral role not only in their education but in the course of their lives. There are some teachers, though, who leave us with something more. We all remember that one teacher who was always in our corner, always pushing for us to be the best we could be in all areas of life, taking a special interest in our success and creating a lasting bond. These are the teachers we recognize in our inaugural What’s Up? Teachers segment— the dedicated and galvanizing private school educators who are making a difference today for the leaders of tomorrow.

Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

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Amanda Priestley


Degree: Master’s degree from Monterey Institute of International Studies in International Policy Studies; various master’s level education courses

Years teaching: 10

Years teaching at current school: 2

Grades and subjects taught: English 10, English 11, English 12; coordinator of 21st Century Initiative (unique elective classes that students design based around their interests/ passions)

Proudest teaching moment: One of my students didn’t make the National Honor Society cut because of his lack of leadership experience. After his initial disappointment, he and I worked together to find a way to get meaningful leadership experience. His idea was to teach a ballroom dance class in the weeks leading up to prom. The other faculty and I were skeptical (would the other students laugh as he led the foxtrot to a hip-hop crowd?), but he was passionate about dance and thought it was something he could teach well. He made flyers, talked up his class, and created a sign-up. Before we knew it, the 12 slots were filled with couples excited about learning some old-school dance moves. Each weekly class was extremely well organized and showcased a different ballroom dance; he even brought in top 40 hits to practice to. It turned out to be one of the most popular activities the school offered. My proudest moment was when this student came to me after his last dance class and said, “Once you’ve been a leader, it’s really hard to go back to being a follower.”

Summarize your teaching philosophy in one sentence: Academic confidence is the single biggest factor in student success.

In your opinion, what is the toughest challenge in education today and how are you working to overcome it? The biggest problem in education today is a one-size-fits-all mentality. Everything is standardized—at least in public schools—and many teachers don’t have the time or the leeway to change the pace, presentation, or even material to suit individual students. Not everyone learns the same way, in the same manner, and yet we gauge success by how well kids today conform to the same arbitrary measuring stick. Our goal as educators has to be to recognize the individual gifts of each of our students and find ways to nurture those gifts across whatever content area. Education is about cultivating one’s passions and developing the skills to be a lifelong learner.

“Amanda demonstrates an abiding sense about teenagers. She taps into their individual interests, values, and curiosities and uses those attributes as propulsion for learning. She has implemented the Wye River Upper School 21st Century curriculum, in addition to her responsibilities as an English teacher and department chair, where she uses the same respect for her students to guide them through some very challenging and mature literature.” 
—Chrissy Aull, Executive Director of Wye River Upper School

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Betsey Hottel


Degree: Randolph-Macon College, B.A. in Spanish; Towson University, B.A. in Education

Years teaching: 14

Years teaching at current school: 9

Grades and subjects taught: Spanish, preschool through eighth grade; lacrosse coach

Proudest teaching moment: I find it quite gratifying when students return to the school after graduating and thank me for preparing them well for advanced placement classes in high school.

Summarize your teaching philosophy in one sentence: I believe that empowering students with a passion to learn is paramount to realizing their full potential.

In your opinion, what is the toughest challenge in education today and how are you working to overcome it? The toughest challenge in education today is keeping up with the influence that technology and social media have on our youth. They are bombarded with so much information constantly. Focusing on the positive elements and integrating that into the classroom is the most constructive way to address the challenge.

“Quite simply, as an educator and as a person, Betsey is a standout. She teaches Spanish to every child in our school, from our three year olds to our eighth graders—a remarkable testament to her depth, patience, and skill. Due to the strength of her program, most of our graduating eighth graders place out of Spanish I, and some out of Spanish II, when entering high school.” —Debbie Williams, Middle School Division Head at Kent School

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Dawn Holmes


Education degree: Lesley College

Years teaching: 22

Years teaching at current school: 17

Grades and subjects taught: Presently I am teaching kindergarten; second-, fourth-, and fifth-grade math

Proudest teaching moment: The proudest teaching moment is when everything finally clicks for a child. It is written all over their faces.

Summarize your teaching philosophy in one sentence: HANDS ON HANDS ON HANDS ON....children actively participating in their learning.

In your opinion, what is the toughest challenge in education today and how are you working to overcome it? I think one of the biggest challenges facing today’s teachers is overcrowding and having to teach to a test. I’m really fortunate that at Radcliffe Creek School, we have an extremely low student-to-teacher ratio (3 to 1) and we teach to mastery, not to a test.

“With a background in elementary education and training in Montessori methodology, Dawn works every day with students facing learning disabilities and always focuses on the child’s strengths, never their weaknesses, helping to build confidence and creating a foundation for a love of learning that will stay with these students for a lifetime. In the last year, Dawn brought to reality the school’s idea of creating a kindergarten program. Through innovative, hands-on teaching methods, she has turned our youngest students into children who love to learn.” 
—Molly Judge, Director of Radcliffe Creek School

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Amanda Newell


Degree: B.A. English, Washington College

Years teaching: 15

Years teaching at current school: 12

Grades and subjects taught: Introduction to Literature (9th), American Literature (11th), Creative Writing Workshop (12th), English Department Chair

Proudest teaching moment? When one of my students suffered a serious traumatic brain injury, he lost years of math and English skills. We spent many afternoons reading and writing together, and we had to begin at the elementary school level. He’d often become exhausted after 10 or 15 minutes of work. Now, a year and a half later, he is enrolled in regular math and English classes. I am incredibly proud of his determination and progress.

Summarize your teaching philosophy in one sentence: I believe we are most successful as teachers when we encourage our students to think critically and creatively, and it’s important to remember that they’re still kids, and they’ll make mistakes.

In your opinion, what is the toughest challenge in education today and how are you working to overcome it? I am deeply concerned about the issue of school safety. Students have the right to learn in a physically and intellectually safe environment. That should be sacrosanct. Teachers and schools everywhere have had to adapt and make real changes in the wake of such tragedies as Sandy Hook. In the classroom, I do my best to offer students a place where they feel safe enough to take intellectual risks. That’s how they learn—and learn to find their own voice. In the words of my mentor, who taught at Gunston for more than 30 years, our job as teachers is to “be the center of the raft” for our students.

“Amanda is a gifted teacher, adviser, and poet. With a combination of high standards and support, she inspires students to a remarkable level of excellence in their writing and thinking, and she models what she teaches through her own creative writing. She teaches a full load here and organizes our annual book festival, In Celebration of Books. In addition, she is a regionally and nationally recognized writer, and is the author of a poetry chapbook, Fractured Light, which won the 2010 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize.”
—John Lewis, Headmaster at The Gunston School

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Paula Grimes


Education degree: Towson University

Years teaching: 36

Years teaching at current school: 18

Grades and subjects taught: High- School sciences: Environmental Science, Physics, and Chemistry; Growology Club advisor

Proudest teaching moment? This nomination is my proudest moment.

Summarize your teaching philosophy in one sentence: I strive to teach my students to the best of my ability the most I can in the allotted time.

In your opinion, what is the toughest challenge in education today and how are you working to overcome it? In my opinion, the constant advancement in technology is the toughest challenge in education today. It is like a double-edge sword as technology has its good and bad points. I will never overcome these challenges, but I do try to keep up with the latest technology.

“An experienced teacher, Paula continually challenges herself within her craft, creating a curriculum and lessons that engage students in the learning process. From bay grass planting to stream walks, in-class demonstrations to active use of field trips and guest speakers, Paula uses the local environment as the most effective classroom for her students. She consistently excites her students, not only in learning about the environment, but also in making active decisions to become involved in the protection and maintenance of that environment.”
—James Nemeth, Principal of Saints Peter and Paul High School

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Anna Harrison


Education degree: Pensacola Christian College

Years teaching: 7

Years teaching at current school: 7

Grades and subjects taught: Fundamentals of Math (7th), Pre-Algebra (8th), Algebra I (9th), Business Math (10th/11th), Accounting (10th/11th), Yearbook (10-12th), Computer (2nd-8th), Art (1st-6th)

Proudest teaching moment: My proudest moment is having a student realize the importance of their subject and mastering it. Through their mastery, they gain a confidence that stems from hard work. Then to have that student later tell me they appreciated what they learned while in my class and how it has helped them to be successful in their current classes, that is very rewarding!

Summarize your teaching philosophy in one sentence: To create a desire to want to learn in my students by making their material understandable and relevant, while doing all I can to ensure every student is successful not only academically, but also spiritually.

In your opinion, what is the toughest challenge in education today and how are you working to overcome it? I feel the toughest challenge is reaching a student with a different learning style or disability. I will research different teaching methods that have worked for other educators in similar situations while brainstorming with colleagues to develop a style that is suitable for that child, whether it be visually or tactually.

“Anna Harrison is a dedicated teacher. Along with her duties in our high school, she is very concerned that we make available elective classes to our elementary students and uses her free hours to offer extra computer, Spanish, and art classes to our elementary students. She also is involved in helping Chestertown Christian Academy maintain a positive community presence, whether it be helping with a Thanksgiving parade float or an Earth Day bench project in the park.”—Joseph Baugher, Administrator of Chestertown Christian Academy

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