Anthony J. Berard was in the second grade, sitting in the library at his elementary school immersed in a biography of Buffalo Bill Cody.
He wondered: "How could I get paid to read books?"
The only answer, he decided right then and there: teaching.
Last night, the 35-year-old Glen Burnie High School history teacher was named Anne Arundel County Public Schools Teacher of the Year at a banquet at the BWI Marriott. Berard was joined in his honor by Paula M. Forst, who teaches morality and moral issues to 11th- and 12th-graders at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis and was named Private Schools Teacher of the Year.
"As I am approaching graduation, I look back upon what I will miss," wrote graduating senior and student government president Alex V. Herrera in a letter nominating Berard for the award. "I will remember the people and the experiences. Among those people, I will always remember that one teacher who stands out as the most superb! Mr. Anthony Berard has been a role model to many students."
Berard's award includes $1,000 from Bank of America, $500 from the school system and a chance to compete for Maryland State Teacher of the Year. Berard, who lives in Baltimore's Fells Point, has been teaching for 10 years, following in the footsteps of his father, a teacher and superintendent in Louisiana. Berard holds degrees from the University of New Orleans and the University of Maryland.
Since he started teaching Advanced Placement U.S. History three years ago, the percentage of students passing the test doubled, the number taking the AP exam tripled and the number passing the test quadrupled in two years. Berard coaches the History Bowl team, was selected as best overall teacher by last year's seniors and is an avid runner.
The other finalists for the public school award were Terry Poisson, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Magothy River Middle; Mattie A. Procaccini, an English teacher at Old Mill High School; and Robert Widra, a welding teacher at the Center of Applied Technology-South.
Forst, the private-school winner, has 24 years of teaching experience, spanning the globe. With her husband in the Navy, she and her family traveled the world and she took new jobs wherever they went. She came to St. Mary's in 1997 and is now the chairwoman of its religion department.
"In spite of all that is written about today's teen-agers, I find nothing but optimism in my hope for our country's future," Forst wrote as part of her application for the award. "There are so many fine young people who are struggling with societal changes and family dysfunction, who come to class eager to learn and desperate for a means of meaningful communication.
"Families don't talk; they don't even eat together, so where is the teen-ager going to find an adult who is willing to listen? In my class they do!"
The other private-school finalist is Abigail Hargrave Goines, a first- and second-grade teacher at Summit School.