Clarksville Middle School music teacher Joanne Mead has come to view every one of her pupils as perfect little notes. Some are as sharp as others are flat, for sure, but over the years, Mead has been able to blend each of their music classroom experiences into her harmonious song of success.
And so last night, the Howard County Board of Education recognized Mead as the county's Teacher of the Year.
"The fact that she is recognized as our Teacher of the Year is very outstanding in and of itself, because we have such wonderful teachers here," Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said.
Mead, 45, has been a music teacher for 24 years, all in Howard County. The past 10 years, she has taught at Clarksville Middle. And every year, she said, keeps getting better.
"Every time I say 24 years, I can't even believe I'm saying that because it doesn't even seem possible, because the years have just flown by," said Mead, who lives in western Howard County. "Just because I love what I do so much."
What Mead does isn't too different from what many middle school music teachers do. She talks to pupils about proper fingering on instruments. She helps them understand words such as crescendo and staccato. She heads the school's three choral groups, encouraging altos not to drown out the sopranos and reminding the young singers to stand tall, project and breathe, breathe, breathe.
It's how she does those things that sets her apart from the five other county teachers nominated last year for the honor.
"Students are constantly challenged in her class to go beyond what they thought was possible," Clarksville Principal Harriette C. Greenberg wrote in her nomination letter. "She also does an amazing job with all students regardless of their musical background. All students are successful in her class."
That's not by happenstance.
Mead's co-worker and friend, Judith Morraye, said she has always been amazed at how well Mead adapts her lesson plans to help all pupils become successful. Especially the time Mead made cut-out musical notes for a blind child at the school.
"To this day, that student still remembers what a special teacher Dr. Mead was and how she helped her learn about music," Morraye, an instructional assistant, said in her letter of recommendation.
Love for kids and music
For Mead, such efforts are standard when you love kids, you love music and you want kids to love music.
ad,1 "Music teachers are usually very interested in their subject area and spend a lot of extra time with their students because of that," said Mead, who plays guitar and piano and loves to sing.
According to her colleagues -- who submitted her name to the county for consideration -- Mead's interest in music might more aptly be called contagious zeal.
"What I like about music is it's a wonderful way to be expressive and creative and analytical at the same time," Mead said, her voice ringing with excitement. "It's one of the few activities that really uses both sides of the brain and really encourages thinking. I just have to say that music is fun."
So much fun that Mead is quietly glad that she made it only to finalist in the state's Teacher of the Year competition Oct. 8.
If she had won, Mead would have been taken from her classroom to attend conferences, banquets and meetings, and on and on.
So she is more than happy for Susan Higley, an eighth-grade math teacher in Cecil County who won the top honor.
"This has been a really interesting experience so far," said Mead, who, when she is not teaching, loves to be with her husband and 14-year-old daughter on their tree farm in Woodbine. "I've had lots of opportunities already to meet interesting people that I wouldn't have otherwise."
But, she added, "there's a certain amount of discomfort with all the attention. And actually there's a lot of responsibility that goes along with [being the state winner] that pulls you away from your classroom, and I was very distraught about the thought of that. Now I'm very happy with the way things are."