Humanities Texas is proud to support the state's teachers through its Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Awards program. Shirlene Bridgewater of Marble Falls was the subject of a feature story in her hometown newspaper that gives a sense of the importance of the award and what it can mean to the hardworking teachers of Texas.
The following story by Daniel Clifton ran in the June 8, 2008, River Cities Daily Tribune:
When Marble Falls High School teacher Shirlene Bridgewater checked her mail May 31, she came across an envelope from Humanities Texas.
Earlier in the school year, Assistant Principal Cathy Patterson nominated Bridgewater for an outstanding teaching award offered by the organization.
As she read the letter, the high school humanities teacher discovered she had won the award, which carried a $5,000 stipend.
"I was so excited," Bridgewater said.
The letter notified her that Humanities Texas had chosen her as one of 12 Lone Star State teachers to receive the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.
"Then I started to bawl," she said. "There I was sitting in my car outside the post office crying. This woman walked by and saw me and kind of looked at me to see if I was all right. I motioned that everything was OK, because these were happy tears."
Humanities Texas, which is affiliated with the National Endowment for the Humanities, helps support opportunities to explore and understand what it means to be human.
The Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award goes to selected middle-school or high-school teachers of history, literature, foreign language, government, social studies and other humanities fields.
Bridgewater teaches a gifted-and-talented humanities class and English.
Four years ago, Bridgewater introduced the first humanities course at the high school. Students had to apply to get into the program.
The first few years, less than than 10 students signed up. This fall, she'll have her largest class with 15 students. But the small class size allows more personal interaction with the students, Bridgewater said.
"It's almost as if we become a family," she said.
And Bridgewater gives the students plenty of room to explore what it means to be human.
"My philosophy is the students already come to me knowing quite a bit," she said. "They already have all these experiences. I try to get them to think about what makes us human and how do we show that humanity."
Instead of lecturing the class, Bridgewater exposes the students to art, good literature, music and even movies.
"I want to expose them to different viewpoints and ideas," Bridgewater said. "And I think the best way to do that is to give the kids experience."
Bridgewater shows movies such as August Rush and discusses how music actually is a character. Or she takes the students to the jSpace Art Gallery, where they not only see art but experience the creative act itself by making artist cards.
Bridgewater has even taken her students to the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art.
When Bridgewater assigns a book to her class, she doesn't go for "easy" reads. Her list includes books that really push students to examine the human condition. Her book assignments include Sophie's World, Ishmael, What Does It Mean to Be Human and Six Questions of Socrates.
"We read wonderful books with historical bents or philosophical questions," she said. "This is a course for kids who are creative; for kids who think out of the box."
Bridgewater said she continually finds herself learning from her students.
"They do keep me on my toes," she said.
Honors and awards aren't new to Bridgewater. She's been a Legacy teacher; the 2006–2007 Marble Falls Independent School District Secondary Teacher of the Year; MFISD Teacher of the Year; and she has been named Texas Education Agency Region 13 Secondary Teacher of the Year.
In 2005, Bridgewater was awarded the Mirabeau B. Lamar Award of Excellence in Teaching.
In 2006, the Marble Falls teacher gave a presentation at the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented professional development conference. Her topic was the curriculum she developed for her humanities course.
Since that conference, Bridgewater has learned at least two other high schools have implemented her curriculum.
Yet Bridgewater has not spent her entire career teaching. For 18 years, she worked in the public relations and communications fields.
"I held just about every job you could hold in those areas including a magazine editor, a radio show host in Houston and I even owned my own bookstore," she said.
But after a divorce, Bridgewater needed a career more conducive to raising her son. Seventeen years ago, Bridgewater stepped into a classroom at Kempner High School in Sugar Land and realized she was home.