2017 Teacher of the Year: Collaboration is key

Shelton High School Biology teacher Christina McNamara was the recipient of the 2017 Teacher of the Year award. — Aaron Berkowitz photo.

Despite having a community full of teachers that contribute to the city’s high standard of education, one Shelton High School science teacher was presented with an award based on her 2016-17 performance that set her apart from the rest.

While reflecting on her 21 years of teaching science in the Shelton school system, Christina McNamara said that one factor that has played a huge role in the success she’s had as an educator is her collaboration with peers.

“You don’t know everything and you’ll never know everything,” said McNamara. “I’m always looking to improve myself, so, working with someone that can teach me something is something that I’m always trying to do as a dedicated, lifelong learner.

“There are so many teachers with wonderful ideas and I’m honored to work with them. They’ve helped make me who I am today. I honestly think so many teachers here deserved this award and that’s what makes it such an honor that I was selected.”

After being announced as the recipient of the prestigious annual award for district educators at Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet’s convocation, McNamara delivered a speech to an audience full of coworkers and peers in which she thanked her supporters. (To watch McNamara give her full acceptance speech click here and  fast-forward to the 4 minute mark.)

Staff from Shelton High and each of the city’s elementary schools met that the Shelton Intermediate School Tuesday morning for the Superintendent’s Convocation, and the announcement of Teacher of the Year.

“I received emails and notes from peers and colleagues from other schools that I didn’t even think knew me. It was very humbling,” said McNamara. “This award means everything to me. I’m not a spotlight person. I’m an in-the-classroom-type person, I’m a behind-the-scenes person who is a hard worker that loves what they do.”

Each year is a new opportunity

McNamara credited all of the other teachers that she felt were equally deserving of the award and advised that all educators take the time to self-reflect at the end of each school year to help develop ways to continue to improve.

“Whether it’s using a new homework policy that I want to try or a new way to connect with my students, the ideas that I think of while sitting on the beach toward the end of summer are always exciting,” said McNamara. “We’re fortunate enough to have a new beginning every year. Every year can be whatever you choose to make it, no matter what students sit in the desks in front of you.”

The science teacher of 21 years emphasized the role that collaboration has played throughout her education career and encourages all teachers to be as welcoming as possible.

“Don’t go in your classroom and work in isolation. Be welcoming to both students and teachers who may need something from you,” said McNamara. “Because you may also find that they leave something with you. I would not be the person I am today without the support and guidance from people that who have become a part of my life through teaching.”

As she enters her 22nd year of teaching in the district, McNamara also said it’s important to teach kids lessons outside of the curriculum. She speculated if that’s why she was selected to receive the award for Teacher of the Year.

“Respect is humongous in my classroom,” said McNamara. “My students can learn and practice subject matter all day long but I also think it’s important for the class to be respectful to each other and me so they’re able to leave school to become productive members of society. It’s not always about the subject matter.”

Teacher of the Year. Now what?

After earning one of the highest honors a teacher can receive, McNamara said she’s focused on the future and developing a new health science program that she’s rolling out this year. The new program is also heavily based around the collaboration of many of her classes, according to McNamara.

This past school year, McNamara and her classes organized a mini health science fair. Despite this task not being a “regular classroom lesson,” she viewed the collaboration between her anatomy and physiology classes and a special-ed class as a positive opportunity for the students. The three classes were responsible for putting on a mock health and wellness fair with display booths.

“I’m going to be contacting hospitals and local medical facilities that may take some of our students on, I’m just hoping that my achievement can help to benefit the students,” said McNamara. “My focus is on this health science program that I’m in so I am so excited and I feel like this new title may afford me some more connections than before.”

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