English and Connections teacher Carole Tomayko stops her sixth-period Connections class midway through presenting posters and tells them to all stand up. The ninth graders listen carefully as Tomayko instructs them to turn around twice and close their eyes, keeping their hands on their hips. The classroom is a sea of moving bodies as the kids bend left, then right, then stand up straight a welcome respite after sitting still for the past half hour. "We're all teapots!” Tomayko exclaims, as her students chuckle.
Because of her unique take on teaching, Tomayko is nominated for the 17th annual Marian Greenblatt award, given to veteran teachers in Montgomery County who do an excellent job of motivating students to achieve. As part of the award, three teachers will receive a $1,000 check, and one teacher will become Montgomery County Teacher of the Year. This teacher will receive the use of a new car for 12 months and will represent Montgomery County in the Maryland Teacher of the Year competition.
The award is named after Dr. Marian Greenblatt, a former President of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Greenblatt strove to raise academic standards. She believed that teachers are the center of the education system and that great teachers deserve recognition. She died of breast cancer in 1988, but her legacy lives on through the award.
Tomayko, the only National Board Certified teacher in Blair's English department, describes her teaching style as old-fashioned. She tries to simply convey to her students the same values that her teachers conveyed to her: the interaction between literature, writing and life.
Tomayko has one word to describe how she would feel if she were to win: "tickled.” She hasn't thought about winning much, but she is happy to be nominated for the award. "[It's] gratifying,” she says. "I'm pleased to be recognized.”
This recognition is well-deserved, according to English department resource teacher Vickie Adamson, who praises Tomayko as a unique teacher who can help students of all levels understand that education is important. "Mrs. Tomayko really does make a difference in students' lives,” she says. Adamson adds, and Tomayko's students agree, that Tomayko knows how to present a lesson plan that kids will understand and remember.
Freshmen Juliet Huang and Priyanka Gokhale both agree. They say that Tomayko has helped them to improve their writing and vocabulary skills. Huang says that as a result of having Tomayko for Connections, she has more of an idea of what career she will venture into after high school. Both students say that Tomayko's encouragement is a large part of why she is a great teacher and believe that her lessons will stay with them long after they leave her classroom.
Tomayko takes joy in writing her lesson plans as well. "Preparing a lesson is like cooking a holiday meal, serving it and having everyone enjoy it,” says Tomayko.
Amy Thomas, a U.S. History teacher, worked with Tomayko as part of the freshman English and history teams that existed until this year. She enjoyed working with Tomayko and admires her energy in the classroom. "I think the best thing about her is she's so enthusiastic about what she does,” Thomas says.
Thomas acknowledges that Tomayko motivates her students because she is actually interested in the activities they do in class. It's easy to tell that she's "into it,” Thomas says. "Yeah, we're gonna do poetry!” Thomas exclaims, imitating Tomayko's enthusiasm.
While Tomayko has received recognition from the Marian Greenblatt Education Fund for her excellent teaching, she credits her work environment for enabling her to do a good job. "Being surrounded by excellent teachers on all sides is what makes it possible for anyone to flourish,” she says.
For Tomayko, teaching has been a perfect match: She loves her colleagues, the students and the way Blair is run. Soon after Tomayko started teaching at Blair, she got the chance to choose where she wanted to work within the county; yet, she stayed with the school. She explains, "I am where I want to be.”
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