Lynn Detter, a fourth-grade teacher at Riderwood Elementary, and Kay Soonfah-Senior, a Spanish teacher at Cockeysville Middle, were honored Monday among a group of five finalists for Baltimore County's 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year nominees.
Both, however, lost out to 29-year-old Sean McComb, an English teacher at Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts. The winner was named Monday, May 6, at a ceremony at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology.
"It is such an honor (to be nominated) but at the same time I feel so humbled by being nominated," Soonfah-Senior, a Timonium resident, said. "When I saw all those finalists and all their history, and just how they interact with the students, I was so moved to think I was sitting with them."
For Soonfah-Senior, the love of Spanish which she said was fostered by her high school teachers, has opened up opportunities all over the world. She has spent 13 years at Cockeysville Middle, but previously taught in The Philippines and Bangladesh. She also made several study trips to Mexico as a young girl because of her advanced Spanish.
During an introductory video on Soonfah-Senior — county schools had prepared one of each of the finalists — she drew laughs from the audience when she mentioned the reaction she gets when she tells people she enjoys teaching middle school.
"They're crazy like me, and I love them," she said. "You can transform them. You can still have an influence on their lives at that time. That's what touches my heart most of all."
Likewise, Detter strives to mold her students at Riderwood into critical thinkers.
"I want to create thinkers, and I tell them that from day one," Detter said. "My job is not to teach you stuff, it's to create a thinker, and if I create a thinker by the end of the year, I've done my job."
Detter, who lives in New Freedom, Penn., spent nearly a decade as an accountant before entering a second career in a field she's sought to enter since she was a girl. Her experience working outside the classroom has only reinforced the importance of preparing students — even fourth-graders — for the real world.
"I think it's really important to incorporate real life into a child's education," she said. "If they don't see the relevance, then they don't get engaged. If they don't get engaged, they don't learn."
But the top honor on Monday went to McComb. He said he was mentored by teachers throughout high school who serve now as models as he teaches students at Patapsco High.
McComb told the crowd that he was a child of divorce and lived with an alcoholic parent, but used school as a sanctuary and grew into the person he is because of encouragement from his teachers.
"The teachers that I had in 10th, 11th, 12th grade were the models, and what they did for me made me believe it was possible to do that for other people," McComb said.
Baltimore County also named its first ever Principal of the Year. Fort Garrison Elementary Principal Karen Harris edged a group of seven other finalists, including Perry Hall High Principal George Roberts, of Towson, to take home the honor.
Harris, of Reisterstown, was nominated for Teacher of the Year in 1997 when she taught at Chatsworth Elementary in Reisterstown. She has also previously held the position of principal at Perry Hall and Pot Spring elementaries.
She told the audience that just as much as she guides the teachers at Fort Garrison, she learns from them, as well.
Other area teachers who earned their respective school's Teacher of the Year honors include: Michelle Classon, Cromwell Valley Elementary; Eric Adams, Dumbarton Elementary; Molly Glassman, Padonia International Elementary; Elizabeth Sopor, Pot Spring Elementary; Stephanie Fanshaw, Ridgely Middle; Katie Lark, Rodgers Forge Elementary; Kelly Ronson, Stoneleigh Elementary; Caryl Connor, Timonium Elementary; Christine Roberts, Towson High; Cynthia Bands, Warren Elementary; and Renee Whelehan, West Towson Elementary.
Bonnie Lambert, principal of Loch Raven High, was one of six finalists for Principal of the Year. The following area principals were named among the 40 nominated for Principal of the Year: Patricia Kaiser, Hampton Elementary; Steve Buettner, Lutherville Lab Elementary; Edmund Bennett, Ridge Ruxton School; Jane Barranger, Towson High; and Susan Hershfeld, West Towson Elementary.