A former private investigator, accountant and a sign language instructor are among the 10 finalists for Harford County Teacher of the Year.
The finalists who were selected by a panel of educators and community members will be honored at the 14th annual Teacher of the Year banquet Thursday at the Bayou Restaurant in Havre de Grace.
Dr. Jon Andes, superintendent of Worcester County Public Schools, will be the speaker and Michelle Sledge, a jazz vocalist, and the Bel Air Pop Choir will perform. A current or former student will tell why his or her teacher deserves to be teacher of the year.
The finalists will receive $1,200 from HARCO Federal Credit Union, a $50 VISA gift card from Harford Bank, dinner certificates, several subscriptions, and commemorative ceramic apples.
The winner's gifts include a Dell laptop and printer, a watch, a clock, a plaque, gift cards, dinner certificates and an engraved school bell.
The finalists are:
Kristina Bilderback has been teaching for seven years, all in Harford. She teaches at Bel Air Elementary. She earned a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and is completing her master's in education from Notre Dame College in May.
She said she always wanted to be a teacher. Her parents are educators and she grew up teaching her brother, and stuffed animals.
"I feel like teaching is my calling and it really makes me who I am," she said. "I feel like I am making a difference in the world. It's all worthwhile when parents come back to me and say my son or daughter was really prepared for middle school."
Mary Jo Day has been teaching for 22 years, all in Harford. She teaches fourth grade at Abingdon Elementary. She earned a bachelor's degree in 1986 from Towson University.
She said she knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was a middle school student, after she saw a child being picked on by other children. She wanted to do something to make children feel good about themselves.
She tries to help her students meet challenges and work together as a community. "Children need to realize that they don't have to be the smartest person in the school to be successful, they just have to be able to work with others," she said.
Mark Evans has been teaching for eight years, all in Harford. He teaches math at Aberdeen High School's Science and Math Academy. He earned a bachelor's degree from Towson University.
He knew during his freshman year in college that he wanted to teach math. "I loved math and science, and I wanted to share that with other people, rather than getting stuck in a career that focused on me," he said. "All of my students are capable of more than they think they are. I try to stretch my students beyond what they think they can achieve."
Yvonne Gabriel has been teaching for 14 years, now as an earth science teacher at Aberdeen High School's Science and Math Academy. She earned a bachelor's degree in 1993 from Westchester University in Pennsylvania.
She knew she wanted to teach as a child. When she played school with her friends, she wanted to be the one to write on the chalkboard, she said. Her teaching motto is a Chinese proverb: "Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand."
"I try to teach with hands in the pot, [literally], and conversations on the table, as often as possible, or else I know they will leave forgetting everything by tomorrow," she said.
Peter Griffiths has been teaching social studies for 23 years, all at C. Milton Wright High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1985 from Loyola College.
He knew he wanted to be a teacher after he had been teaching for about four days, he said. He started teaching so he could become a guidance counselor. But after a few days in the classroom, he said he decided that maybe the teaching would work out.
"Teaching is a great opportunity to work with young people," he said. "I get to help them have a brighter future, and they help me have a fulfilling career. Working with 15- or 16- year- olds is a lot of fun, because they are fresh and enthusiastic."
Sharalyn Heinly has been teaching for 15 years, all in Harford. She teaches mathematics at North Harford Middle School, and American Sign Language at Harford Community College. She earned a bachelor's degree from Lipscomb University, in Nashville, Tenn.
She wanted to teach from the time she was about seven years old, she said. And she was tuned into working with the deaf at age 9, when she read about Helen Keller.
"I like my students to love math in spite of the fact they are learning math," she said. "I have fun trying to trick them into liking math. I sing songs and teach through discovery."
Christopher Hoover has been teaching for 12 years. For the past 11 years, he has taught social studies at Fallston High. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware, and a master's in 2004 from Johns Hopkins.
He decided to become a teacher during a 5 a.m. stakeout while working as a private investigator, he said. He thought he could make more of a difference teaching.
"Teaching is a lot more than just curriculum," he said. "It's role modeling how to live, and work, and succeed in the world. I feel like I have succeeded when a student comes back after graduation from college, and tells me that I made a difference in their lives."
Donna Hott has been teaching for 19 years, 9 of them in Harford. She teaches science at Havre de Grace Middle. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and later earned her elementary education certification. At first she thought a teaching career would not be lucrative enough, she said. But now the rewards come from more than a paycheck.
"Teaching is seeing kids being successful academically, personally and socially," she said. "The laughs I get in the classroom is the highlight of my teaching career. I enjoy seeing the kids grow and have fun in the classroom."
Sarah Lovelidge has been teaching for 14 years, all in Harford County. For the past five years, she has worked as the K-5 enrichment teacher at North Bend Elementary School. She earned her bachelor's in 1994 from Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
She became a teacher later in life after working as an accountant, she said. After she had three children, she found herself spending more and more time at their school. "I thought how could I miss this? This is for me."
She works to maximize the potential of each child, she said.
"In my position, I have the opportunity to match activities to the interests and needs of my students," she said. "If I have children who have strengths in technology I plan a project in technology. Being able to match the activities to the students is huge."
Ronald C. Wooden has been teaching for nine years, all in Harford County. He is a fifth grade teacher at George D. Lisby Elementary School at Hillsdale.
"When I was young, the guys in the neighborhood were playing football, and the girls were jumping rope," he said. "I wanted to play school. I remember going through the trash cans in the school Dumpsters looking for worksheets that I could use to teach people."
His teaching motto is excellence is expected and distinction is our goal, he said.
"The kids in my class give each other a high five after every lesson," he said. "Teaching means to inspire, cultivate and motivate youngsters to be the best they can be."