La Plata High instructor named CCPS Teacher of the Year
Childers has shared love of Shakespeare, literature with students for more than two decades
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.
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.