Lauded for their innovative teaching styles, unique abilities to build relationships with students and parents, and unwavering dedication to their profession, seven Maryland educators recently were named finalists for the 2006-2007 state Teacher of the Year.
Among the seven are a middle school language arts teacher from Anne Arundel County and a high school science teacher from Carroll County.
Susan Casler, who spent two decades in the corporate world before becoming an educator, teaches seventh- and eighth-grade language arts at Crofton Middle School.
As an undergraduate, Casler thought she wanted to be an art teacher but hated her first education course and instead majored in art history. She has worked as a freelance writer and at a travel agency, ran an art program, then did administrative work at a Fortune 500 company before finding her way back to education.
Casler has since earned her master's degree and is certified to be a school administrator.
Known for her hands-on lessons using costumes and food, Casler started teaching in Anne Arundel County in 1997 and worked at Wiley H. Bates Middle School for three years before going to Crofton Middle. She has been its language arts chairwoman since 2001.
"I teach with the best school staff ever - secretarial, maintenance, guidance, medical, media, cafeteria and administration, as well as teachers - so it is easy to look good," Casler said this week. "It is an honor [to be named a finalist], but I view it as a representational role for the thousands of teachers who will not receive this direct recognition. In every classroom every day, teachers go above and beyond for their students."
Kenneth B. Fischer, who graduated from Liberty High in Eldersburg, started his teaching career in 2000 after graduating from McDaniel College in Westminster.
When he isn't teaching science at Winters Mill High in Westminster or coaching the school's cross-country and outdoor track teams, Fischer may be working as a paramedic for the Mount Airy fire company.
A nationally certified registered paramedic, Fischer often uses real-life experiences to help demonstrate important concepts to his students.
"Ken is not only a positive influence on our students, he is always so positive with his fellow teachers," said Kirstie Lynn Troutman, career coordinator of the math, science and technology academy at Winters Mill. "You never find Ken complaining. He continually seeks out ways to improve instruction and learning throughout the entire school."
One of his many strengths, Troutman said, is getting teachers to collaborate and share their best teaching strategies.
"To be chosen as a finalist in a group of Maryland's best educators is quite an honor," Fischer said. "In my interactions with all of the 24 district teachers of the year, it is very obvious that Maryland has a dynamic group of educators that are capable of meeting the rigorous expectations of [No Child Left Behind] legislation."
Fischer said his teaching is rooted in his belief that students must be challenged with rigorous coursework. He said he tries to make lessons relevant by connecting them to hot topics or community problems, and he aims to nurture relationships with each student.
The other finalists are:
Mark Carl Sunkel, who teaches biology at Linganore High in Frederick County.
Lisa Bender, who teaches marketing at Southern Garrett High in Garrett County.
Stephanie B. Flick, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Benjamin Banneker Elementary in St. Mary's County.
Diana D. Churchman, a second-grade teacher at Charles H. Chipman Elementary in Wicomico County.
Michelle Hammond, a seventh-grade teacher at Stephen Decatur Middle in Worcester County.
The finalists - selected by a panel of judges representing principals, teachers, school boards, teacher unions, students and parents - were measured against a set of national criteria that include teaching philosophy, community involvement, knowledge of general education issues and suggestions for professional and instructional improvement, according to the State Department of Education.
The Maryland Teacher of the Year is scheduled to be announced Oct. 6. The winner will receive cash awards, technology equipment and a 2007 Pontiac Solstice convertible.
Sun reporter Anica Butler contributed to this article.