Each year, Humanities Texas presents statewide awards to recognize Texas classroom teachers who have made exemplary contributions in teaching, curriculum development, and extracurricular programming. We are pleased to feature four of our 2023 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients and their award presentations. Each award winner received $5,000, with an additional $1,000 for their schools to support further excellence in the instruction of the humanities.
Read more below about the teachers we recently celebrated, and stay tuned for upcoming newsletter features on our other 2023 winners!
Humanities Texas is currently accepting nominations for the 2024 Outstanding Teaching Award cycle, so nominate a teacher you know and admire! Nominations will be accepted through Friday, December 8, 2023. Visit our Awards page for more information and to submit a nomination.
On September 29, Humanities Texas Board Member Amanda Nobles presented Whitney Reardon with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a presentation at Longview's Johnston-McQueen Elementary School.
Reardon, who has taught for over sixteen years, currently teaches English language arts and social studies to elementary-aged deaf and hard-of-hearing students. While Johnston-McQueen Elementary School primarily serves hearing students, it also serves as the location of a specialized-instruction regional classroom for deaf children from thirty-two surrounding school districts.
In addition to the humanities curriculum she teaches her students, Reardon stands out as an educator for the ways in which she uplifts and celebrates her students and their Deaf culture. Whether it is through a family traditions project or hosting a local "Signing Santa" who communicates in ASL, Reardon provides meaningful, inclusive opportunities for her students.
"I want all of my students to grow into their full potential and have the knowledge and power to advocate for themselves," Reardon said. "I want my students to believe in themselves!"
"The sixteen-year veteran teacher influenced her mainstream teachers to infuse the attributes of Deaf culture and language into their instruction with hearing students, which has created a compassionate environment built on mutual understanding and acceptance," remarked Laura Lott, director of Longview Regional Day School for the Deaf. "Due to her efforts, students learn to recognize and accommodate differences between two cultures and build a bridge between the two."
On October 5, Humanities Texas Board Member Trasa Cobern presented Katy Roberson with an Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching during a presentation at KIPP Pleasant Grove Leadership Academy in Balch Springs.
Roberson, a seventh-grade Texas history teacher in her third year of teaching, prioritizes three skills in her classroom: writing, critical thinking, and empathy. Through incorporating activities that make history relatable and fun for her middle school students, Roberson has already formed valuable connections with her students in her first few years.
"As they grow, my students are not going to remember everything I taught them about Texas history," said Roberson. "My job as an educator in the humanities is to teach my students skills that they can take with them no matter the path they choose in life."
"Ms. Roberson is also very dedicated to her profession and always looking for ways to improve her student's experience at our school," said Holland DeBoer, instructional coach at KIPP Pleasant Grove Leadership Academy. "She has started our very first middle school student council and empowered our students to hold elections and decide for themselves how they want to improve our school."
Moses Hetfield, who taught AP U.S. government and politics, AP microeconomics, and AP macroeconomics at IDEA College Preparatory in San Juan, received a 2023 Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching. This past summer, Hetfield moved to Maryland, where he currently teaches U.S. history and AP U.S. government at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring.
Hetfield began his teaching career as a corps member of Teach for America Rio Grande Valley (TFARGV), which allowed him to participate in professional development and mentorship during his first years in the classroom. Those who nominated Hetfield for the award commented on his positivity, student engagement, and the welcoming environment he creates in his classroom.
Some highlights of Hetfield's creative and passionate pedagogy can be seen in his mock Supreme Court, rap battles between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, and a puppet show about the three branches of government.
"Creating these projects requires deeper, higher-order thinking than in many traditional classroom assignments," said Hetfield. "This, along with the joyful memories and, indeed, the catchiness of the music students create, etches the content more durably in their minds than any other mnemonic tool I know."
"Hetfield's profound impact in class will be long-lasting, leading to socially conscious leaders in today's world," said Melanie Morales, director of teacher leadership development at TFARGV. "He quickly builds and strengthens community. His students, principal, and school have shown tremendous appreciation of him."
On October 9, Humanities Texas Board Chair Becky McKinley presented Melissa Shelley with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award during a presentation at Gruver High School.
Melissa Shelley is an English and theater teacher who goes above and beyond in creating a creative community at Gruver High School. She singlehandedly re-established the theater program and fundraised for her productions by creating "Night of the Arts," a evening of collaboration that brought the community together and awakened a passion for the arts in her small, rural community.
"My mindset when I teach my subjects is to help students understand themselves, their world, and their place in that world," said Shelley. "That is my goal every day I step into my role as an educator, and I am honored to have the opportunity to do it."
"Mrs. Shelley took on the challenge of starting the theater program from scratch. I am thankful for her dedication to the program and the effort that she put forth behind closed doors. Every student wanted to be involved in her theater program," said Tara Mayes, a former student.