As a child, Christina Blackman spent summers riding ponies on a North Dakota farm not far from where her great-grandmother taught immigrant children how to read and write in a one-room schoolhouse.
"In some ways, I feel I've inherited my teaching career," Blackman said yesterday in an emotional address to a roomful of educators who gathered to honor her as Baltimore County's Teacher of the Year 2001.
Blackman, 33, has taught music to special education students at Battle Monument School in Dundalk for 11 years. Yesterday, she thanked many of the teachers who touched her life, including a sixth-grade instructor who called her father at work when she failed to complete an assignment. It was the first and last time she did that, she assured the audience.
At the Towson ceremony was her vocal-music teacher at Loch Raven High School, Scott Frutchey, who now works at Dulaney High. As she said how he had encouraged her to become a teacher, his eyes teared up. "That's my baby," he said later. "She is such a wonderful human being and such a gifted musician, I thought education needed someone like her."
As this year's winner, Blackman will receive, among other things, a $1,000 check from Comcast Cablevision to purchase a laptop computer. She will represent the county in the Maryland Teacher of the Year competition.
"This is the day we celebrate the people who really do make a difference for children," said Superintendent Joe A. Hairston. "We're a good school system because of these excellent teachers."
Four semifinalists also were recognized: Louise Geczy, a 10th-grade English teacher at Perry Hall High; Kelly Quintero, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Deer Park Middle Magnet; Kathryn Robinson, an 11th-grade social studies teacher at Parkville High; and John Staley, a math teacher at Hereford High.
Blackman, a Hamilton resident, said that after graduating from what is now Towson University in 1990 she took a job at Battle Monument because she couldn't find a teaching position elsewhere. Battle Monument caters to students ages 3 to 21, most of whom have learning and physical disabilities or behavioral problems.
"I thought I'd get my toe in the door in the county and then go from there," she said. "And look, I never left."
Battle Monument Principal Charles Meyer said he never doubted that Blackman would become teacher of the year. "She has such a strong belief in the abilities of her students," he said. "She gets them to do things that most people would never think they could do."