CAMDEN, Del. – Drum roll please... Delaware's 2015 State Teacher of the Year award goes to Megan Szabo in the Caesar Rodney School District.
The Delaware Department of Education says Szabo won the award at Tuesday night's banquet at Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center. Governor Jack Markell made the announcement in front of 475 guests, according to education officials.
Szabo is a science teacher at Postlethwait Middle School.
She began her teaching career in 2003, and now teaches a seventh and eighth grade loop at Postlethwait, where she also is team leader, head coach of the school's Science Olympiad and advisor to the National Junior Honor Society. Szabo is a Next Generation Science Standards lead teacher and Delaware Science Coalition instructor.
Prior to coming to Postlethwait in 2005, she taught for a year at Christina School District's Shue-Medill Middle School and a year at Avon Grove Charter School in Pennsylvania.
She considers among her greatest accomplishments in education the traits she instills in her students.
“My students may not remember every itty bitty detail about what they learned in 7th and 8th grade science, but they leave my class as confident learners who are able to make observations, see connections, solve problems and think scientifically,” she wrote in her application portfolio, later adding, “For me, teaching them how to be a scientist is just as important as teaching them science.”
Her philosophy of teaching is based on recognizing “kids will not learn from teachers they do not like in classrooms they do not want to go to.” She says she reminds herself of this as she designs lessons. The result is a lot of hands-on activities such as creating models and carrying out investigations. She says she encourages groups to design their own lab investigation rather than just following along a predetermined procedure.
“The best way for my students to really learn science is to experience it themselves,” Szabo said.
This longtime personal teaching philosophy aligns well to the state's new science standards and is why she is so excited to be a Next Generation Science Standards lead teacher, she said.
“These new standards do not just change what is taught in science classes. More importantly they are changing how science is taught,” she said. “I have been amazed on a daily basis by what my students are doing in my classroom since my lessons have become more NGSS-aligned.
“They are having scientific conversations with each other and asking each other analytical questions, but most importantly I have witnessed them using the science ideas they learn in class to think critically and solve real world problems,” Szabo wrote.
Former student Emily Booth said Szabo's techniques helped her, citing Szabo's interactive lessons for helping biology and earth science “come alive.” Favorite lessons included a game imitating shark and minnow natural selection and a 3-D cell with all the organelles.
“Even as a junior when I was taking my advanced anatomy and physiology class I was able to remember what each of the organelles and their functions were,” Booth wrote in a letter recommending Szabo for the state honor. “Most importantly it made us excited about learning. I couldn't wait to get to science class to see what we would be learning next.”
Szabo, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Biology Education from the University of Delaware, earned her Master of Education in secondary school counseling from Wilmington University.
The process of selecting Delaware's Teacher of the Year is designed to find that teacher who is most representative of the entire profession through in-class observations, portfolio reviews and consideration of finalists by a representative panel.
Education officials said Szabo inherits from outgoing Teacher of the Year Lea Wainwright the responsibility of representing all teachers in Delaware. She will address community groups, business leaders, legislators, and educational organizations to inform the public about the status of Delaware schools. She also will become Delaware's candidate in the National Teacher of the Year Program, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with Voya Financial and People to People Ambassador Programs.
By action of the General Assembly, she will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, as well two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000. The remaining 19 school district/charter candidates each will receive a personal grant of $2,000.
She also will receive an educational technology package valued at approximately $18,000 from the SMART Technologies, ULC. Additionally, she will receive: a $1,000 grant for educational/classroom use from American Institutes for Research; grants from the Delaware State Education Association, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Professional Standards Board; a State of Delaware Teacher of the Year commemorative plate from the Division of Motor Vehicles; free graduate-level courses from Delaware's higher education institutions, including a full doctorate program from Wilmington University and University of Delaware; a gold watch from the Delaware State Teachers of the Year Association; a 10-karat gold ring from Jostens; and lunch in Washington D.C. with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper.
Other organizations that honored the newly-selected Teacher of the Year include: the Delaware Chief School Officers Association, Delaware Association of School Administrators, Delaware School Boards Association, Delaware State University, Wesley College, Delaware Technical and Community College Owens Campus and the Future Educators of America.
Szabo's selection as Delaware's top educator makes her the 51st Teacher of the Year since Delaware's recognition program began in 1965.