We are pleased to showcase four 2019 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award recipients and their recent award presentations. This fall, our staff traveled across the state to celebrate several of our award winners with their students, colleagues, and elected officials. Each award winner received $5,000, with an additional $500 for their schools to support further excellence in the instruction of the humanities. Read more about the teachers we celebrated below.
Humanities Texas is currently accepting nominations for the 2020 Outstanding Teaching Awards, so nominate a teacher you know and admire! Nominations will be accepted through Friday, December 13, 2019. Visit our Awards page for more information and to submit a nomination.
On September 25, State Representative James Talarico and Humanities Texas Education and Outreach Coordinator Marissa Kessenich presented Rachelle Cameron with a 2019 Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award in front of her third period English class.
Although Cameron is officially an English language arts teacher, she uses literature to help her students explore a wide range of topics, including civics, world history, and philosophy.
"To teach careful, creative, and truly innovative thinking, students need creative spaces and tools to develop their own criteria for quality and success," stated Cameron. "Through the humanities, students learn how to think creatively and critically, to reason, and to ask questions—skills that allow them to gain new insights on everything from poetry to paintings to politics."
To encourage her students to pursue their curiosity and open their minds, Cameron partners with schools from around the world, including those in Russia, South Korea, Spain, and Morocco, to form an international community of students sharing ideas about their cultures. Last year, Cameron compiled poems her students wrote with their pen pals into a volume for them to keep.
"Ms. Cameron is in her seventeenth year of teaching and has worked relentlessly in her classroom to be creative and embrace a global mindset," commented Martha MacFarland, who nominated Cameron for the award. "When students come to Ms. Cameron's room, they know they will be actively learning and producing ideas."
"I was honored to present Ms. Rachelle Cameron, my constituent, with the prestigious Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching Award," commented Representative Talarico. "Her commitment to create a classroom environment focused on developing the whole student that empowers students to become life-ready leaders best exemplifies all that is transformative and powerful about the teaching profession and the humanities. I am thankful for all that Humanities Texas does to uplift and support the outstanding educators across our state."
State Senator Larry Taylor and Humanities Texas board member Chase Untermeyer presented Leigh Anne Rayburn with her award during a ceremony at the YES Prep Southeast campus in Houston on October 9.
Rayburn has spent all nineteen years of her teaching career at YES Prep Southeast. She currently teaches AP English to high school seniors.
"Humanities education is critical to the survival of our democracy," said Rayburn. "While the STEM field is necessary and particularly valued in the twenty-first century, every engineer, doctor, coder, and scientist will contribute more to human progress if they can visualize and articulate how science and humanities complement each other."
Outside of teaching, Rayburn dedicates her time to leading a women's book club she started in 1999. For the last two years, she has also dedicated her summers to reading AP exams for College Board.
"Leigh Anne understands and appreciates the transformative power of building strong relationships with her students," said Chris Barbic, founder of YES Prep Public Schools. "Through these relationships, she is able to push her students to achieve academic excellence in her classroom and develop a life-long love of great literature they carry with them well beyond it."
State Senator Bob Hall, Representative Justin Holland, and Humanities Texas Education and Outreach Coordinator Marissa Kessenich presented Brandon Vestal with a 2019 Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a ceremony at Rockwall-Heath High School on October 11.
Vestal, who has been in the classroom for sixteen years, has spent the past four teaching world history at Rockwall-Heath High School.
"By engaging with the complexity of history, we begin to understand, appreciate, and even celebrate the multiplicity of paths that have brought us to this point in human history," commented Vestal. "We see through the humanities that we are more alike than different and that our best hope for the future is to move forward."
In addition to teaching AP courses, Vestal started Hawkes Care, an on-campus food bank at Rockwall-Heath High School that discreetly provides students with extra food on weekends and holiday breaks.
"Brandon is one of the best teachers I have had the pleasure to serve with," said Todd Bradford, principal at Rockwall-Heath High School. "He works tirelessly to engage students in high-level conversation on historical and current events."
State Senator José Menéndez and Humanities Texas Education and Outreach Coordinator Marissa Kessenich presented Andres Lopez with a 2019 Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award in a ceremony at Stevens High School in San Antonio on October 30.
Lopez teaches English language arts and Mexican American literature at Stevens High School, where he has spent the past four years of his sixteen-year teaching career. Lopez is also the English department coordinator and serves on the campus instructional leadership committee. In this capacity, he assists twenty-seven fellow teachers with pedagogical development and lesson implementation.
"Unlike many of my colleagues who have always loved reading and writing, I fell out of love with reading and loathed writing as a student," said Lopez. "I am glad I struggled with and learned to appreciate literature because it provides me with valuable insight into how some of my students feel about reading and what I can do to inspire them to love it."
Lopez's most significant accomplishment as an educator has been developing the first Mexican American literature course in San Antonio. In his class, students not only read poetry, short stories, plays, and novels written by Mexican American writers, they also have the opportunity to engage with art in their own community. Lopez also hosts local writers, artists, historians, and professors as guest speakers and takes his class on field trips to local art exhibitions and theatrical performances.
"I maintain that Mr. Lopez has developed himself as a master teacher not only because of his expertise of the content area or his skills in pedagogy but because he is a continuing learner who consistently demonstrates a respect for our students," said Harold Maldonado, former principal at Stevens High School. "He believes that students should take ownership of their learning and demonstrate the ability and confidence to tackle new challenges."