Only two weeks remain to nominate a deserving teacher for a 2018 Outstanding Teaching Award! Humanities Texas is accepting nominations through Wednesday, December 13. Winners will receive $5,000 cash and an additional $500 for their schools to purchase humanities-based instructional materials. Visit our Awards page to submit a nomination.

In this month's Teacher Feature, we are pleased to showcase five 2017 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients and their recent award presentations.

Ryan Sprott, The International School of the Americas, San Antonio

U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro presented Ryan Sprott with the James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award—reserved for the teacher whose application receives the highest rating from the panel of judges—at Education Service Center Region 20 in San Antonio on October 20, 2017. The presentation took place during a Humanities Texas professional development workshop on the U.S. Constitution for secondary social studies teachers.

Sprott, who earned his doctoral degree in education in 2016 and has been teaching for twelve years, teaches EngWhap, a blended AP world history and pre-AP English language arts course at the International School of the Americas. He is also the dean of the social studies department.

Sprott's interdisciplinary course, which he designed with one of his colleagues in the English department, provides students with a real world environment in which to learn world history and English and creates a space where students can address contemporary dilemmas while using historical evidence. Sprott extends learning outside of his classroom as well, designing trips to local historical sites, museums, and public art institutes and even leading a yearly weeklong trip through New Mexico along the Camino Real.

"A passionate, creative teacher can change the trajectory of students' lives," said Congressman Castro. "Dr. Sprott is an educator who not only cares about the young people in his classroom finding academic success, but he also nurtures in them greater empathy, compassion, and self-assurance. With his dynamic humanities curricula and commitment to expanding students' horizons, Dr. Sprott is developing the next generation of engaged, community-minded San Antonians."

Larry Wisdom, Van High School, Van

Texas State Representative Dan Flynn and Humanities Texas program officer Sam Moore presented Larry Wisdom with his Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a presentation at Van High School on October 23, 2017.

Wisdom, whose teaching career spans nearly fifty years, has taught all levels of high school theatre arts and theatre production at Van High School for the last seventeen years.

"He is all-encompassing as an instructor," said Van High School principal Jeff Hutchins. "His classroom is magical, and a forty-five-minute class with him seems like seconds, though he may have taken his students on a journey to ancient Greece or through an insane asylum of the 1860s to discover the lessons of history at their finest."

Wisdom sponsors the Van High School Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) theatre team, which has made thirty state meet appearances under his direction. The team won second place last year in the Texas UIL One-Act Play statewide competition, the largest play contest in the world, with their production of Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

"Through the humanities, students learn to think not only creatively but also critically," said Wisdom. "A humanities education allows us to gain new insights into everything from poetry and paintings to business models and politics. It is through a humanities education that students are empowered to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of the world."

Yvonne Kaatz, Dripping Springs High School, Dripping Springs

Liz James, coordinator of educational programs at Humanities Texas, presented Yvonne Kaatz with her Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a pep rally at Dripping Springs High School on November 3, 2017.

Kaatz's teaching career spans twenty-eight years. She currently leads the English department and teaches pre-AP and gifted and talented English II and AP English III at Dripping Springs High School. She has been selected ten times by outgoing seniors as their most influential high school teacher.

"As the leader of our English Language Arts Department, Yvonne's influence extends well beyond her classroom," said Dripping Springs High School principal Joe Burns. "She is consistently pushing herself and her department to serve our students by always striving to deliver a relevant, rigorous curriculum."

Kaatz provides her students with meaningful material and learning opportunities, whether by taking them to see the John Steinbeck collection at the Harry Ransom Center, inviting authors to discuss their work with the class, or creating a senior retreat each fall. In addition, she spearheaded the redesign of the school's English courses to allow students to study genres that truly interest them, such as dystopian literature, modern American literature, and Latino literature.

"This career has come to mean more to me each year," said Kaatz. "Winning this award is a tremendous honor, especially when I work in a school with so many talented and hard-working teachers who expect the best from their students."

Elizabeth Close, Anderson High School, Austin

State Representative Donna Howard presented Elizabeth Close with her Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching during a ceremony in the Anderson High School library on November 14, 2017.

Close, who earned her master's degree in education from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014, has been a teacher for two years. Her courses at Anderson High School include on-level and pre-AP world geography and ethnic studies. Close serves as the ninth-grade social studies team lead and sponsors the school's Model United Nations team.

"My approach to teaching is steeped in critical theory, cultural relevance, mutual teacher/student humanization, and valuing what my students bring with them to the classroom," said Close. "I do everything in my power to get my students to be able to think critically about the world around them."

At Anderson High School, Close spearheaded the ethnic studies class that focuses on minority movements, civil rights movements, and community issues. The course quickly grew from one class to three classes. She is currently working with Austin ISD to develop and implement the course district-wide.

"The real challenge is to invigorate learning for students every day," said Anderson High School principal Sammi Harrison. "Elizabeth Close has a unique ability to breathe life into history and connect it to current issues in a meaningful way for students. She makes the learning vibrant and empathetic."

Michael Shackelford, O. Henry Middle School, Austin

State Representative Donna Howard presented Michael Shackelford with his Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a ceremony in his classroom at O. Henry Middle School on November 14, 2017.

Shackelford teaches U.S. history at O. Henry Middle School and serves as the eighth-grade team leader. In 2014, he received the distinction of Teacher of the Year at O. Henry Middle School.

"When I first started at O. Henry in May as the new principal, I instantly knew Michael Shackelford was a leader in the classroom and on campus," said Principal Marlo Malott. "He leads with equity and advocacy for his students, and I am confident he will continue to learn and lead for many years to come as a passionate and dedicated educator."

The secret to Shackelford's success is his desire for his students to make meaningful connections to history. He coordinates annual trips to cities like Washington, DC, Boston, and New York City where students can see history and government come alive in new and exciting ways. His interactive teaching methods—which include simulations, projects, and games—encourage student participation and consideration of the social, political, and cultural contexts of history.

"I want students to feel safe and known in my class," said Shackelford. "I want to create a culture of respect and an appreciation for history, and I want my students to know that our lives outside of the classroom have a direct impact on our love for learning."

(From l to r:) Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette, OTA winner Ryan Sprott, and U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro at Sprott's award presentation.
James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award winner Ryan Sprott.
Texas State Representative Dan Flynn presents Larry Wisdom with his Outstanding Teaching Award at his presentation at Van High School.
OTA winner Larry Wisdom with his wife, Sue Wisdom.
OTA winner Yvonne Kaatz and Humanities Texas coordinator of educational programs Liz James at Kaatz's award presentation held during a Dripping Spring High School pep rally.
(From l to r:) Anderson High School principal Sammi Harrison, Texas State Representative Donna Howard, OTA winner Elizabeth Close, and Humanities Texas coordinator of educational programs Liz James at Close's award presentation.
(From l to r:) Texas State Representative Donna Howard, OTA winner Elizabeth Close, Anderson High School principal Sammi Harrison, and Humanities Texas coordinator of educational programs Liz James.
(From l to r:) Austin ISD Associate Superintendant Terrence Eaton, Humanities Texas board member Susie Shields, Texas State Representative Donna Howard, OTA winner Michael Shackelford, and Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette at Shackelford's award presentation.