Teacher of the year instills curiosity in students
Cecilton’s Highfield earns annual honor
CECILTON — When Anne Highfield taught her first class, the students were only a little bit younger than her — they were in sixth grade and she was in ninth grade.
“My mother let me play hooky from school to teach in her classroom,” Highfield recalled. “She required me to submit a lesson plan in advance and she pre-confer- enced and post-conferenced me. I was hooked after that.”
Highfield’s love for teaching hasn’t wavered in the decades since that first lesson and on Thursday night, the Cecilton Elementary School teacher was named the 2016 Cecil County Public Schools teacher of the year.
The recognition was a long time coming for Highfield, who has been with CCPS for 26 years, including the last five at Cecilton Elementary. She got hired by the system shortly after graduating from Slippery Rock University and meeting a CCPS recruiter at one of the school’s job fairs.
“I remember walking by the Cecil County booth and the guy there said, ‘Hey, do you want to work in Cecil County?’ And I said, ‘ Well, where is Cecil County?’” said Highfield, who grew up in Oil City, Pa.
She started with CCPS as a media specialist, holding that job for about six years before becoming a fifthgrade teacher and then an instructional support teacher. Before coming to Cecilton five years ago, Highfield
spent 10 years as an instructional coach, going into classrooms and mentoring teachers.
Although she liked her time as an instructional coach, she also loves being in the classroom and building relationships with her students. Highfield enjoys the chance to see her students grow during the year and watch as they learn new things about their own abilities and the world around them. Curiosity, Highfield said, is key and she tries to keep that at the center of all her lessons.
“I think if I can awaken their sense of curiosity about the world, they’ll be set for life,” she said. “The world isn’t really about how much information you can absorb or how much information the teacher can impart on you. It’s more about how you can direct your own learning and find out the things you want to find out, and then do and create something with that learning.”
Her fourth grade students certainly appreciate that approach, though they have another word for it: “fun stuff.”
“She’s always doing fun stuff with us and teaching us while doing fun stuff,” said Leila Suter, one of Highfield’s students.
Her classmate Jack Harris agreed and said his favorite “fun stuff” activity was walking around outside to look for and listen for frogs.
“She never yells or gets mad either,” Harris added. “She’s always in a happy mood when she comes in.”
Highfield’s skill at creating fun yet educational activities also extends beyond the walls of her classroom. In 2013, she worked with the Sassafras River Association to create a rain garden at the school and each year her students tend to the garden and learn about the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding ecosystem.
Highfield has also discovered a special knack for crafting engaging history lessons, something that came as a surprise even to her. She disliked teaching social studies before coming to Cecilton and usually tried to find a partner teacher to teach social studies while she taught science.
But when she started at Cecilton, she was required to teach social studies, so she dove into the material and worked hard to connect historical events to the present day. In June, she was named the 2015 Maryland History Teacher of the Year.
Neither that honor nor Highfield’s recognition as Teacher of the Year came as a surprise to principal Meghan Pugh, who nominated her for the teacher of the year award.
“(Highfield) is innovative and very passionate,” Pugh said. “Her children are coproducers of the learning that takes place in that class- room. It’s really a community.”
And Highfield’s dedication to that learning community means she didn’t spend much time savoring her teacher of the year award.
On Thursday morning, barely 12 hours after giving her acceptance speech, Highfield was back in her classroom, surrounded by flour, baking sheets and her eager students, their hands gummy with dough as she helped them make hardtack in preparation for their Friday field trip to the historic Sultana schooner in Chestertown.
“In hindsight I’m not sure that was the best plan because I only got about two hours of sleep last night,” Highfield said with a laugh. “But that’s the joy of fourth grade — they can help in this process. It doesn’t have to go perfectly by my set, prescribed steps. I know if I give them a recipe that they can bake the bread. They understand why we’re doing it and it’s rewarding to look back and see them creating and learning.”
Anne Highfield, a fourth-grade teacher at Cecilton Elementary School, helps her students make hardtack.
Anne Highfield (center) poses with CCPS Superintendent D’Ette Devine and Cecilton Elementary School Principal Meghan Pugh after receiving the Cecil County Teacher of the Year Award at a banquet on Wednesday night.