In addition to a new school year, shorter days, and (slightly) cooler temperatures, autumn in Texas also brings a new round of Outstanding Teaching Award presentations! Over the last month, two teachers from Dallas and San Antonio received their awards during ceremonies at their respective schools. Each award winner received $5,000, with an additional $500 for their school to support further excellence in the instruction of the humanities. Read more about the incredible teachers we celebrated below.

Stick around and nominate a teacher you know and admire! Humanities Texas is accepting nominations for our 2019 Outstanding Teaching Awards through Friday, December 7, 2018. Visit our Awards page for more information and to submit a nomination.

Melody Townsel, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas

Humanities Texas Program Officer Sam Moore presented Townsel with her award during the State of School & Arts Season Kick-Off at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on Friday, September 7, 2018.

Townsel, who is in her ninth year of teaching, teaches U.S. history, AP English language, and AP English literature.

"Ms. Townsel is committed to helping students prepare for their academic and arts futures by blurring the lines and seeking cross-sector application of the creative endeavor," stated M. Scott Tatum, the dean of arts conservatories for Dallas ISD. "Her students are happy, challenged, and prepared for whatever comes next with their joy for learning still intact."

Townsel is an interdisciplinary leader on her campus. In 2017, the National Arts School Network selected her to present on her strategies using music, visual arts, dance, debate, and written expression to teach history and English language arts concepts. Her students practice oration and argument, for example, while debating the existence of Santa Claus; they study satire and rhetoric by delivering oral analyses of newspaper articles and current events.

"Now more than ever, a humanities-focused education is critical," commented Townsel. "A solid foundation in the humanities provides students with the skills and context they need to think critically; to evaluate information independently; to not just tolerate, but to embrace, ambiguity; to examine complicated issues from multiple points of view; to analyze and powerfully communicate their position on issues of import; and, perhaps most important, to better understand humanity in all of its depth."

Erin Gutierrez-Harbor, Sidney Lanier High School, San Antonio

State Senator José Menéndez and Humanities Texas Communications Officer Marissa Kessenich presented Erin Gutierrez-Harbor with her award at a ceremony on Thursday, October 11, 2018, at Lanier High School.

Gutierrez-Harbor teaches all levels of high school history, including U.S. history, world history, government, and economics. She also serves as the social studies department chair and the head coach of the school's academic decathlon team.

"Ms. Gutierrez-Harbor exhibits distinguished teaching skill," commented Lanier High School Principal Laura Cooper. "She crafts lessons that engage students in critical inquiry that is rooted in deep study of the social studies and humanities."

For the last twelve years, in addition to her teaching, Gutierrez-Harbor has served as sponsor and fundraiser for the Lanier High School Travel Club. She has facilitated students' travel to over a dozen countries to see historical sites up-close that they first encountered in their world history classes.

"In a world that has never been more interconnected, it is vital that students develop an appreciation for the history and culture of others," stated Gutierrez-Harbor. "The study of humanities helps students develop this appreciation for diversity as well as a strong sense of justice. In our diverse society, which is dominated by social media and sensationalism, it is important that young adults can ascertain facts. The critical thinking skills students develop in their humanities classes will help them in their quest to be compassionate members of a well-informed citizenry."

2018 OTA winner Melody Townsel (center) with Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Principal Scott Rudes and Humanities Texas Program Officer Sam Moore.
Melody Townsel, pictured here with her daughter, at her award presentation.
(From l to r:) Lanier High School Principal Laura B. Cooper, San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, State Senator José Menéndez, 2018 OTA winner Erin Gutierrez-Harbor, Humanities Texas Communications Officer Marissa Kessenich, and San Antonio ISD Board President Patti Radle.
Erin Gutierrez-Harbor with State Senator José Menéndez.