Classroom is fertile field for Maryland Teacher of the Year finalist

Aaron Geiman has a gleam in his eye that gets brighter as he talks about education.

Whether he's talking about his students at North Carroll High School, school policies, parents, agriculture science or the future of education, Geiman is passionate. All aspects of his vocation intrigue him, and he does his best to do his best for his students.

"He is probably one of the brightest, most

innovative teachers," said Richard Weaver, the career connections teacher at North Carroll, and the person who nominated Geiman for Teacher of the Year in Carroll County.

He won that honor early in April and is now a finalist for the Maryland Teacher of the Year award. The winner will be announced in October.

"He's always looking at things differently," Weaver said. "Aaron has a little different thought pattern and focus than other people. He always has. It makes him a unique person."

Born and raised in Carroll County, Geiman graduated from North Carroll in 1993 — in fact, Weaver was one of his teachers.

Geiman received his bachelor's degree in animal science and agricultural education at Oklahoma State University in 1997, and his master's in career and technical education at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, in 2009.

He began teaching at his alma mater in 1998 and, after 13 years, has no plans to leave.

"It was little bit (odd) at first," Geiman, 36, said of teaching at the school from which he had graduated and where he had Weaver as a teacher. "It was nervousness. It's not a problem any more."

Global issues

Geiman's classroom, on the lower level at North Carroll, is reached from an outside entrance. It's there, in a high-ceiling room with walls filled with information about crops and animals — and a sign that says simply, "Manure Happens" — that Geiman teaches agriculture science.

It's an elective topic that he believes is critical to the lives of his students, now and in the future.

"A typical farmer feeds 150 people," Geiman notes. Yet, "only 2 percent of the U.S. population are farmers."

In one class, he challenges his students to consider ideas to help end world hunger.

Although there's technically enough food available now to feed the world, as the population steadily grows there won't be, he tells students. It's their job, he suggests, to find answers for the next generation, and to face pests such as stink bugs and the predatory snakehead fish species.

In the class, students tackle projects that bring agriculture into focus as a worldwide concern.

"It's about the process, not the product," Geiman said of his students' projects. "Analyzing the problem, the thinking process. It is not about the right answer. I want to empower them to become life-long learners."

Geiman, who serves as the adviser for North Carroll's chapter of Future Farmers of America, says he also wants to help students find their "vision," whether it's in agriculture or another field.

"Fewer and fewer graduates have that clear vision," Geiman said. "They take only what they need to graduate.

"The world is uncertain," he says, noting that some fields, such as manufacturing, are no longer "fallback" options for graduates.

Fertile minds

Geiman says he sees a role in taking students out of their comfort level, and challenging them to see where they fit in a changing world.

"Parents have done a great job of caring for their kids," he says. "There is a great deal of comfort they have, that a generation ago didn't. As a result, there is no pressure for them."

High school students are also developing their own personal identity, Geiman said, adding that teachers need to foster that and help them develop a positive identity.

That relationship with students was part of the equation in Geiman's being named county Teacher of the Year.

"He has got a lot of enthusiasm for (teaching), and his enthusiasm came out in his interview," said Carey Gaddis, supervisor of community and media relations for Carroll County Public Schools.

For the county award, more than 200 nominations were reviewed by a panel created by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce before eight were selected to be submitted to the Board of Education. From those eight, Geiman was selected.

"They were judged on their professional biography, their philosophy of teaching, their letters of support and recommendation, and their interview," Gaddis said.

Geiman's resume didn't hurt: He has led several curriculum teams writing and revising the county's Agricultural Education and Technology Education guides.

He's also led workshops on ag education and related topics at countywide professional development events. And, as a seven-year member of the Maryland Agriculture Teachers Association executive board, he's been involved in statewide efforts to improve agriculture in Maryland.

Geiman is also the nation's first master teacher for the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education, a program of the National Council for Agricultural Education.

Statewide attention

Twenty-four districts submitted their applicants for Maryland Teacher of the Year. After an interview, that number was dwindled down to eight, and Geiman is still in the running.

Having a Carroll County teacher in the running for the statewide honor is a feather in the cap of the county school system.

"I'm really excited. He represents Carroll County well," said Gaddis. "He's a wonderful guy, and we wish him well."

"We are really proud of this program in Maryland," said Dr. Darla Strouse, director of the Maryland Teacher of the Year program. "It's really an opportunity to put a spotlight on outstanding teachers; people who are dedicated to helping our students grow."

If selected as Maryland Teacher of the Year, Geiman will be invited to speak at events throughout the state, and would win almost $100,000 in prizes and opportunities — including a new car. He would then compete for National Teacher of the Year.

Last year, a teacher in Frederick County, Michelle Schearer, was named both the Maryland and National Teacher of the Year.

"I don't think we would have a better candidate to represent us," Weaver said of Geiman. "He is so far ahead of the curve. I can't say enough good things."

Geiman was scheduled for a final screening interview with judges on Sept. 24. He'll attend the Oct. 14 awards ceremony with other finalists.

Win or lose, Geiman said the focus that earned him the county award — student growth — will stay with him.

"I enjoy working with students," Geiman said. "I see myself remaining a teacher. I like interacting with them. I really like teaching."

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