Defense Department Teacher Aims for National Honor
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 8, 2012 A Defense Department teacher’s quest to bring lessons alive for her students from military families has landed her a spot as a finalist for 2012 National Teacher of the Year honors.
Angela Wilson’s selection marks the first time a DOD Education Activity teacher has risen to this level of the competition, activity officials said.
“I’m so honored -- and surprised,” said Wilson, a 7th grade English and language arts teacher at Vicenza Middle School in Italy. “I’m pinching myself about the whole experience.”
Education Activity officials selected Wilson from among 14 district nominees as their 2012 Teacher of the Year last fall, placing her among an elite group of state finalists representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. jurisdictions.
After an extensive application process, a national selection committee named Wilson one of the four finalists for National Teacher of the Year in January. Earlier this week, Wilson traveled here to wrap up the program’s final round, which included personal interviews with representatives of 14 national education organizations.
Wilson and the other finalists will return here in April, when President Barack Obama will announce the National Teacher of the Year in an event at the White House.
In the meantime, the 11-year teacher said, she’ll have plenty to keep her busy, both at home and in the classroom. Her husband is a fellow 7th grade teacher at Vicenza Middle School, and they have four children, ranging from 4 years old to a 7th grader who takes both Wilson’s and her husband’s class.
In the classroom, Wilson said, she’ll continue to strive to bring her lessons alive. It’s all about establishing connections, she explained, whether it’s teacher to student, students to the content, or the classroom to the community.
The teacher-student connection is foremost, she said. Teachers first need to ensure students feel valued and understood. “If we do that, they will do almost anything for us,” she said.
Once that personal connection is made, “we can bring learning alive by connecting them to the content,” she said.
Wilson cited a recent example from her classroom. Her class was practicing the parts of speech, she recalled, but rather than use a worksheet, which is the norm, she asked students to suggest ideas that would better impart the lesson.
The students suggested incorporating the format of Fox’s “American Idol,” a popular TV singing competition. Students created cooperative groups, which they called bands, and each picked one of eight parts of speech and wrote song lyrics, Wilson explained. They made giant posters and hung them along the hallways to promote their songs, and also conducted rounds of what they called “Grammar Idol.”
This success led the students to produce Grammar Idol CDs and to go “on tour” to elementary school classrooms, she added. The teacher said she’s heard these songs playing in the installation youth center.
The experience meant a lot to her students, Wilson said. “We need to create those memorable moments based on their interests,” she said, that “won’t be forgotten when the bell rings.”
“The goal at the end of the day is not … about getting an A on a test,” she said. “It’s about doing something with what we’ve learned in class outside of class.”
Finally, Wilson works to connect her students with the community. She welcomes community members to visit her classroom and ensures she’s out in the community as much as possible. Whether a parent or a store owner without children, she said, “we all have an integral part in educating a child.”
These community connections extend far beyond a town’s or even the nation’s borders, Wilson said, citing the importance of connecting students with people around the world. “We’re in a global society,” she said. “We all have a role in creating future global citizens.”
With their frequent moves and cultural exposure, children from military families are poised for global success, Wilson said.
They are adaptable, can solve problems and are able to deal with serious issues. “They have the traits everyone is saying we need for the 21st century,” she said.
Wilson said military children inspire her just as she strives to inspire them. “I’ve had to stop myself in class and listen to what they’re saying and I am in awe,” she said. “I don’t know if they realize how much courage and perseverance they have.”
Whether she moves further in the competition or not, Wilson already is a winner, Marilee Fitzgerald, the education activity’s director, said.
"We are so very proud of Angela," she said. "Angela is committed to teaching and dedicated to providing our students with the best possible learning experience. She is an example of the quality and commitment all DODEA teachers have to our students and to education."
Wilson said she’s proud to stand out among so many amazing teachers, both at the education activity and around the nation.
“I truly believe every single student can succeed,” she said. “My job as a teacher is to take that to that next level.”