When Christina O’Neill was a little girl, she dreamed of following in the footsteps of her aunts and becoming a teacher. But she probably never imagined she’d one day become Harford County’s 2012 Teacher of the Year.
“I am extremely proud of the teaching profession,” says O’Neill, 41. “For me, it is an honor to represent the dedicated and hardworking teachers of Harford County Public Schools. I am one of many educators who give their best each day to ensure that our students are prepared for today and tomorrow.”
O’Neill, who currently teaches sixth grade language arts at Bel Air Middle School, was nominated by the school’s principal, Sean Abel, before she was chosen by a panel among four other finalists to represent the county’s more than 3,000 teachers. This fall, O’Neill will be considered against 23 other teachers from all of Maryland’s counties and Baltimore City for the prestigious Maryland Teacher of the Year distinction.
“Eighteen years of teaching have passed, and I still wake up ready to show my students the world differently, to give my best artfully and skillfully, to push them to their highest potential in an atmosphere of love and encouragement,” she says. “I have a career that enlivens me. I change lives because I show students the power of language, the value of learning and the potential they have to create a successful future.”
Why did you want to become a teacher?
“I never envisioned myself in a career other than teaching because my soul was that of a teacher. My moral and emotional compass steered me directly to the place where I had observed selflessness, compassion, enthusiasm and creativity.”
What do you enjoy about teaching?
“Neil Postman wrote, ‘Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.’ ” As a teacher, I shape that living message every day so that it can resound with hope, brilliance, creativity, compassion and success in the future.”
Why do you think education is important?
“My students today are the living message for tomorrow that a powerful literate citizenry can change our nation so that we are economically strong, competitive and prosperous. It is education that connects us, sustains us and makes us stronger.”
Why do you think volunteering is necessary?
“As most teachers I know, I am a part of a bigger community. In that community, our role is to set an example. One way I do that is by working in the first grade classroom at Our Lady of Grace. I enjoy giving of my time and talent in a way that benefits the church. I also work to get my students at [Bel Air Middle] school excited about supporting the service projects of others.”
Where do you hope to be in five years?
“In five years, I want to be a voice in educational change. I want to be shaping an education future for my students, my fellow teachers and my community. I don’t know what my exact title or position will be, but I will be impacting kids and our future in a way that matters.”
What do you like to do for fun?
“I like to read, of course, spend time with my children, fish, scuba dive and find deals in thrift shops.”