As we think about for whom and what we are thankful this holiday season, we ask that you take two minutes today to nominate a deserving educator in your school or community for a 2017 Outstanding Teaching Award!

Humanities Texas is accepting nominations for the awards through Wednesday, December 14. Winners will receive a $5,000 cash award and an additional $500 for their schools to purchase humanities-based instructional materials. Visit our Awards page to submit a nomination.

For our teacher feature this month, we are pleased to showcase four 2016 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients and their recent award presentations.

John Irish, Carroll Senior High School, Southlake

On October 31, 2016, State Senator Konni Burton and Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore presented John Irish with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a ceremony at Carroll Senior High School.

Irish teaches AP U.S. history and American studies at Carroll Senior High, where he was voted Teacher of the Year in 2015.

"Mr. Irish is a phenomenal educator who is dedicated to his students," said Carroll Senior High School principal Shawn Duhon. "He asks questions at the creative, evaluative, and analysis levels that focus on thought-provoking discussions. He simply challenges his students to a higher level. We are so fortunate to have him on staff."

Irish believes in active learning and insists that students take responsibility for their education. His classes are conducted as Socratic seminars, rather than as lectures, that incorporate whole class debates, document analysis, art analysis and appreciation, and music.

This interdisciplinary approach led him to create an American studies program at Carroll that combines the AP U.S. history and A.P. language and composition classes. Admission to the course is highly competitive, with around 150 students applying per year.

"I am proud that my students leave my classroom with a deeper appreciation for our country and what it means to be an American," said Irish. "I know that they have been exposed to American history in a way that touches on multiple disciplines. They understand the history of our country on a deeper level because they have been exposed to more in-depth analysis and richer content than they get in many other classrooms.

JP Fugler, Van High School, Van

State Senator Bob Hall and Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore presented JP Fugler with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a ceremony at Van High School on November 2, 2016.

At the time he applied for the award, Fugler taught debate, communication, and public speaking at Van High School. In the fall of 2016, he began teaching at Lindale High School.

"Mr. Fugler brought current, innovative, engaging instruction to our speech students," said Van High School principal Jeff Hutchins. "During his tenure at Van High School, the success of our students reached the national level."

Fugler's passion for public speaking was sparked when he was accidentally placed in a debate class his freshman year of high school. In the two weeks he was required to remain in the course before transferring out, he discovered that he had an innate talent and appreciation for public speaking.

In his five years at Van High School, Fugler grew the speech and debate team from ten students to fifty. This team is now ranked in the top 10 percent of programs nationwide by the National Speech and Debate Association. In addition, many of Fugler's students have won state championships in University Interscholastic League (UIL) events under his tutelage.

"I do not for a second believe I am the best teacher out there," said Fugler. "However, I am on my way to becoming the best teacher I can possibly be. That's not for the sake of any award or recognition. I work for nothing more than my students because they deserve it."

Ashieda McKoy, KIPP University Prep High School, San Antonio

On November 10, 2016, State Representative Justin Rodriguez and Humanities Texas staff member Liz James presented Ashieda McKoy with the Humanities Texas Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching. McKoy teaches U.S. history and creative writing at KIPP University Prep High School. Abigail Morton-Garland, herself a winner of a Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching Award in 2009, is Ms. McKoy's principal.

"Since the day I met Ms. McKoy three years ago, I was immediately impressed with her zest, intellectual rigor, and desire to truly empower her students as learners and true scholars of history," said Morton-Garland. "Ms. McKoy's classroom is a place where students are rigorously challenged to engage in college-level academic work, express and support their positions, and think critically about historical sources and narratives."

In her U.S. history course, McKoy challenges her students to study history as a narrative with multiple perspectives, urging them to question their assumptions and look for information that might be missing from their understanding of the past. At the end of each unit, she conducts formal debates where students argue and provide support for a historical perspective in front of their peers.

"My classroom aims to be student centered—using each other and critical thinking skills for deep analysis and engagement with the material," said McKoy. "Students are being challenged by the content and the questioning—not being afraid to struggle through and hold each other accountable to the thoughts and opinions that they each have."

David Norman, Coppell Middle School West, Coppell

On November 11, 2016, in a special Veterans Day ceremony at Coppell Middle School West, State Representative Matt Rinaldi and Humanities Texas staff member Kelsi Tyler presented David Norman with the 2016 Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award.

Norman teaches Texas history at Coppell Middle School West, where he also leads the school's YMCA Youth and Government chapter.

"[David teaches] in a way that meets the needs of learners at every level and that is respectful of the culture, ability, and strengths of each and every learner," said Coppell Middle School West assistant principal Sarah Thornton. "He has high expectations and pushes learners to be their very best, while also showing tremendous care for their overall school experience and well-being."

Norman believes in experiential learning, creating immersive experiences for his students in the form of town hall debates and excursions in 'time machines.' For example, when his students study the cowboy experience, he hosts a campfire complete with sing-alongs, poetry, food, and coffee. When they study the sinking of the French ship La Belle in Matagorda Bay, he tapes out the outline of the ship on the floor of the gymnasium and has students sit inside its different rooms and compartments as they learn its history.

"The study of history must encompass the elements of the humanities, and these elements cannot be studied in a vacuum," said Norman. "To me, teaching history holistically means learners understand how the elements of the humanities function in relationship with one another, such as how religion defines and drives a society or how art, music, and literature reflect a society's philosophies and religion. These things should not be taught in isolation because they are part of a whole."

"David Norman embodies the best qualities of our public school teachers," said State Representative Matt Rinaldi. "He knows his job isn't to teach to a test but to tirelessly seek innovative ways to connect with students and teach in an experiential way that makes Texas history come alive and instills a lifetime love for learning in children. He is an asset to Coppell ISD and a prime example of what makes it one of the finest school districts in Texas."

From l to r: State Senator Konni Burton, 2016 Outstanding Teaching Award winner John Irish, and Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore at Irish's October 31, 2016, award presentation at Carroll Senior High School in Southlake.
From l to r: Carroll Senior High School principal Shawn Duhon, OTA winner John Irish, Carroll ISD Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Janet McDade, Carroll ISD Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Gina Peddy, and Carroll Senior High School Curriculum Coordinator for ELA and Social Studies Paul Pinson.
From l to r: Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore, 2016 Outstanding Teaching Award winner JP Fugler, Van High School Principal Jeff Hutchins, and State Senator Bob Hall at Fugler's November 2, 2016, award presentation at Van High School.
State Senator Bob Hall presents JP Fugler with his award certificate during the ceremony at Van High School.
Humanities Texas staff member Liz James, State Representative Justin Rodriguez, and 2016 Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching recipient Ashieda McKoy gather with Ms. McKoy’s former students at KIPP University Prep High School.
From l ro r: Abby Morton-Garland, eleventh- and twelfth-grade principal of KIPP University Prep High School; Tina Devalk, ninth- and tenth-grade principal of KIPP University Prep High School; State Representative Justin Rodriguez; and OTA recipient Ashieda McKoy at the November 10, 2016, award presentation.
From l to r: Coppell Middle School West principal Emily Froese; State Representative Matt Rinaldi; Humanities Texas staff member Kelsi Tyler; 2016 Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award recipient David Norman; Coppell ISD Trustee Leigh Walker; President of Coppell ISD Board of Trustees Anthony Hill; and Coppell ISD Superintendent Mike Waldrip.
David Norman accepts his OTA award during Coppell Middle School West's Veterans Day assembly.