La Plata High in­struc­tor named CCPS Teacher of the Year

Childers has shared love of Shake­speare, lit­er­a­ture with stu­dents for more than two decades

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

The course of Denise Childers’ life was changed when she took a course on Wil­liam Shake­speare in col­lege. Now, Childers works to bring her love of the Bard to stu­dents at La Plata High School.

Childers, a Swan Point res­i­dent, was re­cently an­nounced as Charles County Pub­lic Schools’ 2017 Teacher of the Year.

Childers said she didn’t have much in­ter­est in Shake­speare’s work when she was a high school stu­dent at Park­dale High School in Riverdale Park.

“In high school, I found Shake­speare supremely bor­ing. It was ex­cru­ci­at­ing, it was painful, of­ten it was read aloud in a mono­tone way,” Childers said.

When she at­tended the Univer­sity of Mary­land Col­lege Park, she said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to ma­jor in.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I orig­i­nally thought pos­si­bly mu­sic,” Childers said. “My fa­ther sug­gested maybe be­ing a busi­ness ma­jor, but math was not my forte.”

She de­cided to take an up­per level Shake­speare course with Pro­fes­sor Michael Olmert, a renowned writer and ex­pert on Shake­speare.

“He’d read the text he was teach­ing prob­a­bly 50 times, maybe more than that, through the course of his life­time, but you would never know it, be­cause he was like a kid on Christ­mas Day with the ex­cite­ment he brought to each class we were there,” Childers said. “He was like a one-man en­cy­clo­pe­dia with all this knowl­edge.”

Childers said it was the way Olmert brought the Bard to life for her that con­vinced her she wanted to go into teach­ing.

“From the first week of class, I was so en­thralled and ex­cited with what he was do­ing, and how ex­cited he was about what he was teach­ing, that I think that’s when I knew this was what I wanted to do for a liv­ing,” Childers said. “He and I still keep in touch.”

Childers did her stu­dent teach­ing in Charles County Pub­lic Schools, and was hired by the school sys­tem in 1993.

She taught at Ben­jamin Stod­dert, Gen­eral Small­wood and Mat­ta­woman mid­dle schools, with four years as depart­ment chair at Mat­ta­woman, be­fore trans­fer­ring to teach at Mau­rice J. McDonough High School in 2000. In 2001, she trans­ferred to La Plata and has been there ever since.

Teach­ing at La Plata is a fam­ily affair for Childers. Her hus­band teaches gov­ern­ment at the school.

“I love it,” Childers said. “There are some days when we don’t see each other at all, but, on days when nei­ther of us have some­thing af­ter school, we do ride in to­gether, and it’s re­ally nice to talk about your day af­ter­wards … It’s nice hav­ing some­one in the same pro­fes­sion, be­cause they know they ups and downs, they know the chal­lenges you face on a daily ba­sis.”

In ad­di­tion, her son Chase grad­u­ated from La Plata in 2015. Both of his par­ents taught him.

“I think there were days that he didn’t like hav­ing his par­ents here, and know­ing ev­ery sin­gle thing that he did, but I think most of the time he liked it,” Childers said. “He al­ways says — and he’s right — that we were al­ways hard­est on him.”

Childers also serves as spon­sor for Un­plugged, the school’s a cap­pella group. Un­plugged ad­vanced to the semi­fi­nals this year in the In­ter­na­tional Com­pe­ti­tion of High School A Cap­pella.

Un­plugged has recorded two songs to be re­leased on iTunes within the next month, with as­sis­tance from Dream­lab Stu­dio, which was founded by Un­plugged alumni.

“It was a won­der­ful process, hav­ing stu­dents who were a part of the group now run­ning a busi­ness and di­rect­ing that whole process, so we’re re­ally ex­cited for those tracks to come out,” Childers said.

Childers said her stu­dents are the rea­son she has con­tin­ued teach­ing for al­most a quar­ter of a cen­tury.

“I don’t of­ten think about how long I’ve been teach­ing, be­cause there are some days in my head that I think I’m way younger than I ac­tu­ally am, and I re­ally do be­lieve that work­ing with young peo­ple keeps you, at the very least, young-minded,” Childers said. “They are never a source of bore­dom, and I am al­most al­ways pleas­antly, pleas­antly sur­prised by what they do, and that keeps me young.”

She said one of the most sur­pris­ing mo­ments for her came in 2011, when her stu­dents sur­prised her with the gift hid­den in­side an old al­ge­bra text­book.

“With this class I had de­vel­oped a re­ally close bond,” Childers said. “When I opened the cover of the book, they had carved it out — it was an out­dated text­book — and they had put a Kin­dle in there … these two classes chipped in a cou­ple bucks each and bought a Kin­dle for me. I was stunned.”

Childers said she tries to bring the same en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm she ex­pe­ri­enced with Olmert to her high school teach­ing.

“I al­ways try to find a way, whether it’s Shake­speare or some­thing else, [to be] re­lat­able to their lives in some way,” Childers said.

La Plata Prin­ci­pal Douglass Dolan said Childers al­ways goes the ex­tra mile for her stu­dents.

“She works with all lev­els, from stu­dents who are strug­gling to AP [Ad­vanced Place­ment]. She teaches them all with re­spect and en­sures they are all pre­pared for the next level, whether it be work or col­lege,” Dolan said. “Ev­ery­thing she lays hands on has been in­cred­i­ble. I have not found an­other ed­u­ca­tor more de­serv­ing of this award. This is long over­due.”

La Plata English teacher Kate Koz­icki-Miller, who has worked with Childers for six years, said in an email that Childers is ab­so­lutely de­serv­ing of this award.

“We share a wall at LPHS, so I’ve had the ben­e­fit of ob­serv­ing her in ac­tion as a teacher, a men­tor and a club spon­sor,” Koz­icki-Miller said. “She’s ex­traor­di­nar­ily versed in her con­tent and ped­a­gogy, and is pas­sion­ate about what she teaches. She has a de­sire to in­still in her stu­dents the same pas­sion for lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture that she holds.”

“No one at LPHS is more de­serv­ing of this honor than Mrs. Childers,” said an­other col­league, English teacher Brooke Sh­nipes. “Not only does she pour her heart and soul into her class­room, but she then some­how finds time to in­spire the staff as well. As our English depart­ment chair­per­son, Denise has been a men­tor and a sound­ing board, a shoul­der to cry on, an ad­vo­cate and a leader to all of us.”

Childers said she has worked with a great group of peo­ple, all of whom de­serve recog­ni­tion.

“I’ve had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with some of the most amaz­ing teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors in my 24 years work­ing in Charles County, so to re­ceive the award, I want to ac­cept it on be­half of all of those peo­ple,” Childers said.

Childers will be hon­ored at the Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s June 13 meet­ing. As CCPS’s Teacher of the Year, Childers is also a can­di­date for Mary­land Teacher of the Year. In June, the Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion will an­nounce its se­lec­tion of Mary­land Teacher of the Year fi­nal­ists.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Above, Denise Childers, English teacher at La Plata High School, was named Charles County Pub­lic Schools’ 2017 Teacher of the Year. Childers is also el­i­gi­ble to be a fi­nal­ist for Mary­land Teacher of the Year. Be­low, La Plata High School English teacher Denise Childers in one of her English II classes. Childers has been teach­ing at La Plata for the past 16 years and with CCPS for 24 years.

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