Each year, Humanities Texas presents statewide awards to recognize Texas classroom teachers who have made exemplary contributions in teaching, curriculum development, and extracurricular programming. Each award winner receives $5,000, with an additional $1,000 for their schools to support further excellence in the instruction of the humanities. We are pleased to feature our final four 2022 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients and their recent award presentations.
Read more about these amazing Texas teachers, and stay tuned for the announcement of our 2023 Outstanding Teaching Award winners!
On April 28, 2023, Chase Untermeyer, Humanities Texas board member and former U. S. ambassador to Qatar, presented Morgan Dewitt with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a presentation at Houston's Westside High School, where she currently teaches English.
Dewitt has spent her entire thirteen-year teaching career in Houston ISD, including serving as a Houston ISD Instructional Excellence Coach. Recently, the district honored her as the distinguished coach of the year. After her presentation, Dewitt remarked, "I was thrilled to have the ceremony in front of my second period AP English Literature class. It was perfect to share the experience with my amazing students."
"She has a deep appreciation and love of books and reading, and she makes every attempt to incorporate novels that are of high interest to the students . . . that will support a joy of literature and reading," Keri Wittpenn, principal at Westside High School, remarked. "From volunteering to chaperone after-school activities and riding the Metro Bus with our dual credit students to and from Houston Community College, there is nothing that Ms. Dewitt does not feel compelled to help with when it comes to putting student learning first."
Dewitt represents excellence both in her involvement on campus and across the district and as a teacher of the humanities. She recognizes the honor: when asked to reflect on the importance of a humanities education, Dewitt commented that the humanities prepare students "to enter into the world with empathy while embracing the differences in others, the ability to discern the truth and arrive at their own opinions through synthesis, and reflect critically on the past to ensure we do not repeat the same mistakes. We, as educators, lay the foundation using building blocks to guide students to know themselves, learn from and about others, and work toward collaboration with compassion."
On April 27, 2023, Amanda S. Nobles, civic leader and Humanities Texas board member, presented Emmie Drueckhammer with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a presentation at Spring Hill High School in Longview. Drueckhammer was joined by colleagues, students, and her family.
Drueckhammer, who just completed her tenth year of teaching, teaches AP U.S. history, AP world history, and U.S. history; sponsors student council and UIL Ready Writing; and serves as a new teacher mentor, a member of the Bully Prevention Committee, and social studies department chair. She credits her previous teachers and current colleagues as inspiration, saying, "I have also been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful teachers as colleagues and mentors. I continue to learn from them daily, and they inspire me to become a better teacher."
When asked how she engages students in the humanities, Drueckhammer had countless examples to draw upon, from providing students the opportunity to interact with a Holocaust survivor to chaperoning students to attend speeches by presidential advisors, well-known historians, and local individuals involved in historical events like the Space Race. She also described an activity where students seek out local historical markers, explore their significance, and ultimately suggest new ideas for potential markers in their community that are then passed on to the local historical society.
"She is thorough in her delivery of curriculum but creates opportunities to allow students to interact with the information, relate it to themselves, and make it a part of their lives," Amy McFatridge, English department chair and nominator, remarked. "I have also witnessed the results of her teaching on a personal level. My oldest son, now a political science student at Texas Tech University, attributes much of his love and interest in the humanities to his experience in Mrs. Drueckhammer's classes."
On April 5, 2023, Humanities Texas Director of Education Liz James and San Marcos ISD Board President Clementine Cantu presented Diana Garcia with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a presentation at DeZavala Elementary School. Garcia was joined by colleagues, former students, and her current second-grade class.
Garcia has been teaching for twenty-eight years and when asked where her inspiration to teach the humanities originated, Garcia said, "My illiterate godmother, Luz Santos, who never learned to read but loved telling me oral stories she had memorized, influenced me to also be a teller of stories. I became an educator to pay it back to my community. As a child, I was helped by so many, and now it is my turn to serve others."
Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University Jesse Gainer described Garcia as "a creative teacher who is always pushing herself to learn more and to challenge herself and her students" and said that, "to enter Diana Garcia's classroom is to enter a space where young children are invited to form a community of critical thinkers engaging deeply with texts and with each other."
During the presentation, DeZavala Elementary School had prepared a video of former and current students describing the impact Garcia had had on their education. Garcia also emphasized how her contributions as a teacher were made possible by the supportive administration and staff at her school.
On May 3, 2023, Thomas DiPiero, Humanities Texas board member and dean of the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University, presented Yuridiana Lewis with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a presentation at Sunset High School in Dallas.
At the time of her application, Lewis was in her tenth year of teaching and served as an eighth-grade English language arts teacher at Francisco Medrano Middle School. She takes great pride in teaching the humanities as she saw each day how "humanities lessons expand students' knowledge of human cultures, build critical thinkers, and equip them with the power to understand and respect other perspectives."
Former Director of Operations at the Educator Collective Tessa Alexander recalled several of the ways Lewis went above and beyond as an educator. Whether she was fundraising for a "trip of a lifetime" for her top-performing students or providing jackets and gloves for students in need, Alexander commended the ways in which Lewis "kicks open the doors of opportunity for her students and shows them firsthand what they're capable of accomplishing."
Lewis played an active role in curriculum building and instruction both inside and outside of the classroom. In 2019, Lewis was a senior fellow in Teach Plus, a policy fellowship for educators to deepen their knowledge of education policy and gain a voice in decisions that directly affect students and the teaching profession, and she also served as an ambassador for the Dallas ISD teacher review program, a district initiative to promote and reward teacher excellence in and out of the classroom. Though Lewis has recently transitioned out of the classroom, Dallas ISD and Sunset High School are fortunate to have such a caring former educator in the role of tenth-grade principal.