Fall is an exciting season for Humanities Texas. In addition to our upcoming one-day teacher workshops on Shakespeare, Texas history, and the U.S. Constitution, fall marks the start of our Outstanding Teaching Award presentations. Each year eleven teachers receive the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award. One additional teacher receives the James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award, and an exceptional teacher of Texas history receives the Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award. All thirteen awards include a $5,000 cash award and an additional $500 for each teacher's school to purchase humanities-based instructional materials.

Until December 10, we will be accepting nominations for the 2011–12 awards. If you know a teacher in your area that deserves to be recognized, visit the teacher awards page to learn how to nominate him or her.

On September 15, Melinda A. Lemke received an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award in a ceremony at The University of Texas at Austin, where she is a full-time doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the Department of Educational Administration's educational policy and planning program. At the time of the award, Ms. Lemke taught constitutional law, street law, and pre-AP world history at Stephen F. Austin High School. Over the course of her ten-year teaching career, she taught English as a second language in South Korea and a variety of humanities topics at Austin’s Crockett High School and Austin High School including English III and IV, geography, and U.S. history. Her current doctoral work concerns educational ethics and gender parity concerns in secondary public education.

One of Ms. Lemke’s former students said, “I have never met a teacher so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about her subject,” citing Ms. Lemke’s classroom filled with postcards and artifacts from her world travels and her engaging assignments. A parent whose son took her constitutional law class called Ms. Lemke an “incredible teacher” whose passion for the humanities led her son to consider a career in law.

Linda O’Neal, a government and U.S. history teacher at Austin’s Akins High School, is this year’s recipient of the James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award, which was established to honor the Humanities Texas executive director emeritus for his twenty-three years of extraordinary contributions to the state council and to the public humanities in Texas and the U.S.

Among many other accomplishments, Ms. O’Neal piloted a government practicum course in which students study local government and then intern with various city departments. “I feel that it is my civil rights duty to provide an education for students who feel marginalized by the system,” said Ms. O’Neal. “When a population is underserved, undereducated, and underpaid, the impact on society is negative and far-reaching.”

Ms. O’Neal encourages her students to become active citizens, involving them in civic competitions, volunteer activities, and local government. She is also deeply committed to their futures, organizing visits for her students to college campuses around Texas and encouraging them to see college as part of their future.

U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who presented Ms. O’Neal with her award on September 2, 2011, during a ceremony at Akins High School, said, “As an educator, Linda O’Neal understands the transformative power of education. Her hard work and dedication give our children new ways to view the world through the window of history. And it is through her efforts that students at Akins see the ‘human’ in ‘humanities.’”

For a complete list of this year's winners, click here.

Melinda Lemke and her student
Melinda A. Lemke (right) with one of her students.
Congressman Lloyd Doggett and Linda O'Neal
U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett with Linda O'Neal, 2011 recipient of the James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.