For 32 years in the Catholic school system, Karen Montoya has been busy building self-esteem in her students and a passion for science. The chemistry teacher at Archbishop Spalding High School was recognized for her efforts in May, when she received Archdiocesan High School Teacher of the Year honors.
Presented by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the award is the result of a long and thorough process.
“You have to win your school’s Teacher of the Year, which is based on student surveys,” Montoya said.
Next, school principals send recommendation letters to the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
In his letter, Archbishop Spalding High School Principal John McCaul wrote, “This teacher, in every moment, communicates to all of our students, with her words and actions, that she is so glad God created them and that they exist in this world."
McCaul also recalled a school-wide mass during National Catholic Schools Week — an annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States — when 1,300 students rose to their feet to cheer for Montoya.
“She is, without a doubt, our teacher of the year,” McCaul wrote.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Teacher of the Year Committee has a panel of educators that narrowed the selection from 40 archdiocesan elementary and secondary Teacher of the Year nominees. A panel member watched Montoya teach a class and interviewed her. The panel then narrowed down the list again, and Montoya had an interview.
“The archdiocese has many high school teachers, so to be chosen was a huge honor,” Montoya added.
The Arnold resident received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Maryland and worked as a chemist for six years at both government and private laboratories.
“I loved working as a chemist but always knew I was going to be a teacher at some point in my life,” Montoya said.
While she considers herself a chemistry teacher, she has also taught biology and physical science. Most of her students are sophomores taking honors chemistry.
“All students should be exposed to the wonders of chemistry and how chemistry is found in their everyday lives,” Montoya said.
The longtime Catholic school teacher was drawn to chemistry because it was challenging, and she likes to tackle difficult problems.
“Since I started my career as a science teacher, I was, and am, determined for each of my students to leave my course with a set of skills that will support them in college, the workforce and in daily life,” Montoya said.
Her favorite lessons revolve around hands-on activities to learn or practice abstract concepts.
“I have always wanted to know how things work or why something happens in specific situations and science has the answers,” Montoya said.
She prides herself on students having only a few D final grades over her 32 years in a challenging course such as chemistry. Struggling students are convinced to attend extra tutoring sessions, where they not only increase their knowledge of chemistry and raise their grades but also learn that persistence and hard work result in success.
“Many of my past students who were struggling have gone on to be scientists and chemistry teachers,” Montoya said. “So, I do not have just one student I have had an impact on; I have many who will carry on the legacy of love and excitement of science into the future.”
In addition to instilling a love of science and confidence in her students, Montoya also brings faith into her curriculum.
“Catholic schools allow me to not only help my students grow academically but to also grow to become adults that are faith-filled and service-oriented citizens,” she said.
Montoya begins each class with prayer. When students complete their class unit on matter, they have a Post-it note board expressing “You Matter” to pray for the stressors students experience.
“Bringing faith when helping students with the social and emotional issues of the teenage years is a blessing I have as a Catholic school teacher,” Montoya said.
Cafe Mezzanotte is a proud sponsor of Educator of the Month. To nominate a teacher, guidance counselor, principal or other educator, email email@example.com.
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