We are excited to feature the winners of our 2017 Outstanding Teaching Awards over the next several months. Recently, Humanities Texas presented awards to four teachers during ceremonies at their respective schools. Each award winner received $5,000, with an additional $500 for his or her school to support further excellence in the instruction of the humanities. Read more about the inspiring teachers we celebrated this month below.

If, while reading these features, you find yourself thinking of a deserving teacher you know, nominate him or her for our 2018 Outstanding Teaching Awards! Humanities Texas is accepting nominations through Wednesday, December 14. Visit our Awards page for more information and to submit a nomination.

Wes Watters, Colleyville Heritage High School, Colleyville

State Representative Giovanni Capriglione and Humanities Texas program officer Sam Moore presented Colleyville Heritage High School teacher Wes Watters with his award in a ceremony before the school's homecoming football game on September 28.

Watters, who has a PhD in American history and has taught for twenty-eight years, teaches AP U.S. government and macroeconomics. He also serves as an adjunct professor of history at Texas Christian University, a position he has held since 1998.

"Mr. Watters's enthusiasm and passion for government and history resonate with his students, leaving a lasting impression that molds the adults they become," commented Representative Capriglione. "Over the last twenty years he has instilled patriotism and a sense of civic responsibility in Texas youth and for this I am extremely proud and grateful."

Watters's creative classroom activities and assignments encourage direct engagement with government. For the entire year, his students perform extensive research on an assigned member of Congress, become familiar with his or her background and legislative experience, and communicate with the Congress member's office and staff. Each election year, Watters requires his students to take an active role in a campaign of their choice.

"A well-rounded humanities education fosters a deeper understanding of our nation's history, the structure and function of our political system, and how current events are related to both," said Watters. "The methods and practices I employ to teach my courses have always been centered on a sense of urgency and responsibility with regard to the next generation's understanding of an appreciation for the humanities."

Margo Hickman, Jack Yates High School, Houston

On October 6, U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Humanities Texas program officer Sam Moore presented Margo Hickman of Jack Yates High School with her award in a ceremony during the school's homecoming game pep rally.

Hickman, who received her MFA in theatre education and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree, has taught theatre arts at Jack Yates High School for eight years.

"Margo Hickman is a phenomenal teacher and staff member," said Yates High School principal Kenneth Davis. "Her personality glows and her instruction lights up any room. We are lucky to have her here at Yates."

One of Hickman's recent creative achievements was facilitating her students' production of an original, well-researched play entitled Gun Violence: The New Normal, which focuses on gun violence and its impact. The play has been performed multiple times across Houston, including at the University of Houston. Each year, Hickman also leads a black history production in which her students research and recreate historical and current events onstage.

"The core of my teaching philosophy is to educate, motivate, and inspire my students through the performing arts," said Hickman. "As an educator, I believe I have a vested interest in the success of every student, and I find various ways to keep them motivated not just to learn but also to grow into adults that can make a significant impact on the world."

Traniece Brown-Warrens, Edison Middle School, Houston

On October 17, U.S. Congressman Gene Green and Humanities Texas board member Dr. Todd Romero presented Traniece Brown-Warrens with her Humanities Texas Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching in a ceremony at her school.

Brown, who began teaching at Edison Middle School in September, previously taught eighth-grade U.S. history for two years at Deady Middle School. While teaching there, she also coached football and basketball and spearheaded several campus organizations, including the Young Entrepreneurs Club, the Robotics Club, and Student Council.

"Students walk into my classroom with a microscopic perspective on life," said Brown. "The humanities allow students to see far beyond what's in front of them as they are exposed to more opportunities. They give birth to bigger dreams and aspire to conquer the world instead of allowing the world to conquer them."

Brown's creative approach to fostering student interest is one of her greatest strengths as an educator. She piloted "Hip Hop History," a course in which she teaches STAAR American history curriculum through original raps written to the tune of popular hip-hop songs. Brown's new approach effected tangible results: Deady Middle School's Social Studies STAAR scores increased from 47 percent passing in 2015 to 74 percent passing in 2016.

"Teachers are in a unique position to positively influence the lives of young people," said U.S. Congressman Gene Green. "It's evident that Ms. Brown-Warrens is committed to the education of her students and their future."

Sarah Walker, Tuloso-Midway High School, Corpus Christi

Texas State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette presented Tuloso-Midway High School teacher Sarah Walker with her award on October 19.

"Sarah Walker has forever impacted her English students as well as her humanities students," said Ann Bartosh, principal at Tuloso-Midway High School. "She personifies excellence and holds our students to exemplary standards while leading them to success."

Walker—who has been teaching for over twenty years—teaches Pre-AP English II, humanities, and practical writing. She also serves as English department chair.

"Close study of art, history, music, and literature offers the opportunity to travel not just through space, but through time and thought, through a universe with no borders or boundaries," said Walker. "Science and math do, of course, promote critical thinking, but the ability to question and understand the human factor in life's situations creates a fuller, more empathetic experience."

Walker also coaches the Academic Decathlon. Her efforts to facilitate her team's success often include hands-on demonstrations of the arts and humanities, such as bringing in pianos to hear musical chords and using soap and knives to simulate the sculpting process. Her students have advanced to state competition eleven of the fourteen years that Walker has served as coach.

"I want my students to understand that the human mind is a gift, and by exposing them to all aspects of human ingenuity, I hope that they can enjoy that gift as fully as possible."

(From l to r:) HTx program officer Sam Moore, OTA winner Wes Watters, State Representative Giovanni Capriglione, and Colleyville Heritage High School principal Lance Groppel at Watters's award presentation.
OTA winner Wes Watters and State Representative Giovanni Capriglione.
(From l to r:) Jack Yates High School principal Kenneth Davis, HTx program officer Sam Moore, OTA winner Margo Hickman, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee at Hickman's award presentation on October 6.
OTA winner Traniece Brown-Warrens in her classroom at Edison Middle School in Houston.
(From l to r:) HTx board member Todd Romero, Congressman Gene Green, OTA winner Traniece Brown-Warrens, Edison Middle School principal Richard Smith, and Houston ISD director of secondary social studies curriculum and development Montra Rogers at Brown-Warren's award presentation.
(From l to r:) Tuloso-Midway High School principal Ann Bartosh, Tuloso-Midway ISD superintendent Sue Nelson, OTA winner Sarah Walker, Texas State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. and HTx Executive Director Michael L. Gillette at Walker's award presentation on October 19.