Many of the high school English teachers who have won Carroll County Teacher of the Year helped open Winters Mill High School and establish the English teaching ideals and practices it found most effective for students.
This year is the 25th annual Carroll County Chamber of Commerce's Outstanding Teacher Awards. The finalists for the Outstanding Teacher Awards become eligible to win the Carroll County Teacher of the Year honor.
Between 1987 and 2001, seven English teachers at Westminster High School - Barry Gelsinger, Ronald Laczkowski, Mary Kay Maurer, John Holt, Deborah Clarke, Leeann Peck and Allan Zepp - won Carroll County Teacher of the Year.
Four of those teachers - Peck, Maurer, Holt and Clarke - went to Winters Mill High School and were the first English teachers at the school when it opened in 2002. Those teachers still remain at the school.
Peck, who now teaches ninth-grade students, said the English department at Westminster High School in the '90s was considered a center of excellence by the National Council of Teachers in English, in recognition of its high-quality teaching programs in English-language arts.
"We offered all kinds of amazing English classes to meet the needs, interests and ability levels of our students," she said.
The English department had 20 or more teachers that worked together to learn and grow as a staff. Teaching was less test-driven and there were more opportunities for teachers, Peck said.
"All of us were really proud of the work we were doing," she said.
Peck and Maurer were on the leadership team that helped design Winters Mill High School from the ground up, Peck said.
"All of us being honored as Teachers of the Year helped our being chosen to come over and start a new school," she said.
Clarke, who will retire at the end of this school year after 40 years of teaching, said she thought she would spend her entire career at Westminster High School. But the four teachers - considered to be the core of the Westminster High School English department at the time - decided to make the switch, she said.
"We've worked so well together," she said. "The whole mission of the school kept us very close together."
One of the things the teachers did was implement a method of English teaching they called Virtual Teaming, where it is mapped out what students will learn in each high school grade and how skills are reinforced as they move up in grades.
"It just worked so well here," Maurer said. "It's just amazing how the kids knew the expectations and were used to the demands."
With the changes to high school English that came as a result of the Common Core state standards, the teachers are grieving that they are no longer able to teach in this way, Maurer said.
She made the move to Winters Mill because she felt she needed a challenge and new environment. Maurer wanted to be part of a close-knit community where more attention could be paid to each student.
"When I came over here, it seemed like that was the philosophy of a lot of teachers so it worked so well," she said.
Holt said with the Virtual Teaming was incredibly successful at Winters Mill. It resulted in more students taking Advanced Placement Literature and Language, a combined two-credit course at the time, and a higher pass rate for those AP tests.
"It's just constant reinforcement and practicing of skills," he said. "We knew we could get all kids working beyond their potential if we just show them how to do it."
All four teachers said they were honored to win Carroll County Teacher of the Year. Maurer said she was shocked to win, and even remembers saying, "Well there's no chance that I have of winning this, I'm with the elite here."
Clarke said the award showed her that many people respect what she is trying to accomplish as a teacher.
Answering questions for the state competition made Peck evaluate what she did in the classroom and why she teaches, she said.
"It renews your commitment to students, and helps to reaffirm the reasons we all teach in the first place - to have those wonderful moments with our students when we can see the growth that they achieve and the difference we can make when they become excited about something they are learning," she said. "That, in turn, keeps us as teachers learning and growing so that we continually find new ways to reach our kids in the classroom."