Over the past several months, we have highlighted the incredible accomplishments of our 2017 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients. Our award winners represent some of the best and brightest in the teaching profession across the state of Texas. These educators challenge their students to think critically and write effectively, inspiring them to see value in the humanities.

We asked each of our 2017 winners to describe, in their own words, the importance of an education in the humanities. See their responses below, and stay tuned for the announcement of our 2018 award winners, coming next month!

Larry Wisdom, Van High School, Van

Through the humanities, one learns to think not only creatively but also critically. A humanities education allows one to gain new insights into everything from poetry and paintings to business models and politics. A humanities education preserves the great accomplishments of the past, provides insight into and understanding of the world we live in, and provides the tools to imagine the future. It is through a humanities education that students are empowered to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of the world. In addition, a humanities education enables students to weigh evidence skeptically and consider more than one side of every question. The humanities truly develop informed and critical citizens, thus insuring democracy.

Wes Watters, Colleyville Heritage High School, Colleyville

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. A strong focus on the relevance of current events should be the foundation of any course in the humanities. Further, the speaking and writing skills that are conducive to the effective expression of one's ideas are at the heart of a humanities education and should, in fact, be stressed in all academic disciplines. Humanities educators must be at the center of a movement to instill in Americans the importance of not only knowing our history but how to commmunicate effectively and discuss ideas in a positive manner that will lead to change rather than division.

Traniece Brown-Warrens, Edison Middle School, Houston

The humanities force students to broaden their perspective from their daily limitations, allowing them to see far beyond what is in front of them as they are exposed to more opportunities. Students leave my classroom believing they can and will accomplish anything they set their minds to. They give birth to bigger dreams and aspire to conquer the world instead of allowing the world to conquer them.

Ryan Sprott, The International School of the Americas, San Antonio

Teaching world history provides me with continuous reminders about the importance of a humanities education. History shows that, when people fail to see what connects us to our global neighbors, we have ventured down our most shameful paths. And it is the humanities—our collective stories, art, histories, and songs—that illuminate what binds us to one another. In this way, by increasing our ability to see ourselves in others, the humanities are the foundation of global empathy and peace. In our rapidly globalizing world, it is essential that we study the humanities to build a more compassionate, thoughtful, and prosperous future.

Nicole Brisco, Pleasant Grove High School, Texarkana

The humanities set into motion ways for students to consider our world, learn empathy for others, and process ideas. Creativity, originality, and differences are encouraged. Without the humanities our world and schools would be bland and lack innovators that can and will change the world.

Elizabeth Close, L. C. Anderson High School, Austin

To put it simply, I believe that an education based on the humanities helps to produce better people. Learning through the human experience provides opportunity for students to broaden their perspectives and cultivate deeper understandings in a world that greatly needs it. The best way to evaluate the decisions we make today and have made historically demands an examination of human cultures and artifacts. I am truly fortunate to work in a school district that values a diversity of the human experience.

Sarah Walker, Tuloso-Midway High School, Corpus Christi

Studying the humanities has all the benefits of travel. Travel expands our horizons, brings us in contact with new climates, architecture, foods, and customs. Close study of art, history, music, and literature offers the opportunity to travel not just through space but also through time and thought, through a universe with no borders or boundaries. This exploration leads the student to question. The questions start with wondering about other people and their societies. The questioning inevitably leads to scrutiny of the self and of one's own society, and this is the important skill. The ability to question and understand the human factor in life's situations creates a fuller, more empathetic existence.

Katie Carrasco, A. N. McCallum High School, Austin

My experience has been that, through exposure to other cultures' literature, history, art, music, and religion, students learn empathy. They begin to see themselves as having a unique story to tell, and the lines between what is foreign and what is familiar begin to disappear. Humanities education provides the common ground for cooperative globalization for the seven billion of us humans on this planet.

Michael Shackelford, O. Henry Middle School, Austin

Humanities education is becoming more and more important in a world that tells that it is not. Human culture, including history, art, literature, and politics, are the basis of the issues that people are discussing and arguing with increasing amounts of vehemence and vitriol in our increasingly divided country, and yet, education tends to downplay the importance of teaching humanities because of the rise of the internet and technological tools that make accessing these subjects easier. While the internet and tech tools make accessing the humanities easier, they are more important than ever!

Victoria Longoria, Del Valle High School, Del Valle

While STEM seems to garner all the glory these days, the humanities hold the human context of education. Without the humanities, students—our future—operate disjointedly and remiss of social consciousness. It is imperative that education embrace the humanities in order for future generations to promote the betterment of people, social equity, and responsible global and local citizenry.

Margo Hickman, Jack Yates High School, Houston

Teaching humanities has allowed me to share pride, compassion and purpose with our future doctors, lawyers, actors, and politicians. It is my belief that educators truly shape the future of our country, and we have a responsibility to guide our scholars and to teach them the importance of being people who give back.

Sharon Snowton, Higlands Elementary School, Cedar Hill

I like my students to understand each other and appreciate each other's differences and learn from each other. So, we focus a lot on the cultures of the different groups in my classroom. I teach writing, social studies and science in Spanish. My students write and share of themselves. This year we wrote our bilingual newspaper using the theme "Tell My Story," and we published a book, Diga Mi Historia. My students told their stories. Humanities education is very important as it helps us understand not only others but also ourselves.

Jennifer Chase, High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Houston

Nowhere else in our educational canon do we discuss not only the greatness of the human species but our faults as well. Study of the humanities ensures that we collectively remember the mistakes and wrongs that have occurred at the hands of humans. When we despair that our species is capable of deep depravity, it is the humanities that reminds us of the beauty that our species can create. The humanities teach us what it means to be human.

Patricia Ritchie, Arlington Classics Academy, Arlington

Our history is so rich in exploration, religion, culture, architecture, and patriotism. By teaching Texas history, you can also teach grit. Students learn the importance of taking a stand and fighting for what you believe in. There are many examples in our history of people who showed determination to overcome the hardships of the times. I believe that this helps the students of today learn lessons of the past that they can relate to in today's world.

Natalie Fontenot, Reagan Early College High School, Austin

I love teaching the humanities because I have a passion for studying the world and how people interact and organize themselves in it. Once we understand social structures and the history of the world, it helps us to find our place in it. We realize that as individuals, we are important to the world. This realization helps us discover what we have to give and can inspire us to become a scientist, an engineer, a writer, an artist, or a teacher.

Yvonne Kaatz, Dripping Springs High School, Dripping Springs

I see my job as using literature, history, art, [and other humanities subjects] to create a picture of where we have been that influences where we are going. [My students study] literature, history, art, and current events. All these puzzle pieces fit together to make us who we are. The humanities are what give us our life lessons and our blessings and our reminders of who we do not want to be as well.

Paula Dolloff, Harlandale STEM Early College High School

As we ready this generation's young thinkers for an ever-changing job market, it's a mistake to believe we need to prepare students for more "real-world" skills with only science, math, and computer engineering. A student inclined toward science or math needs a flexible mind to solve problems creatively. Nothing builds flexibility or creativity in thinking more than studying humanities. The humanities need to be seen not only as important part of learning but as a discipline that is inextricably linked to art of thinking itself.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Texas State Representative Dan Flynn presents Larry Wisdom with his Outstanding Teaching Award.
(From l to r:) Humanities Texas 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.
(From l to r:) Humanities Texas 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:) Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette, OTA winner Ryan Sprott, and U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro at Sprott'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 Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette at Walker's award presentation.
Outstanding Teaching Award winner Victoria Longoria accepts her award from Congressman Lloyd Doggett.
(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 Jennifer Chase in her classroom at The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston.
OTA winner Yvonne Kaatz and Humanities Texas coordinator of educational programs Liz James at Kaatz's award presentation.