Forty-six educators were nominated for the 2021 Anne Arundel County Public Schools Teacher of the Year. These nominees were honored alongside Teacher of the Year Jing Dai from Meade High School at the 35th annual Excellence in Education Awards on April 15. Meet the nominees at Severna Park and Arnold schools.
Benfield Elementary School
Patricia Bartlett has taught at Benfield Elementary for her entire career. In 41 years, she has taught fourth grade, fifth grade and in the beginning of her career, sixth grade.
“What's so awesome is I am teaching children of my former students, multiple times over,” said Bartlett. “That's so rewarding to actually see the next generation.”
Bartlett attended University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) where she studied psychology with a minor in education. There were not many teaching positions available at the time, so UMBC discouraged her from pursuing a career in education, but she knew that was what she wanted to do.
“I finally decided I was going to bite the bullet and go into education because that's my love,” said Bartlett. “I've always loved children and I've never regretted it.”
Four decades later, Bartlett is still just as passionate about education. She values the relationships she builds with her students and is honored to be a part of their lives.
“I don't think there's any profession that can give you that satisfaction in knowing that you're impacting children and making a positive difference in their lives,” she said.
Bartlett is currently teaching fifth grade, which she enjoys because students begin to understand the importance of education at that age.
“I love this age where they are somewhat independent learners,” said Bartlett. “I see them so ready for challenges that [they] know the material that I teach.”
Bartlett said that the parents at Benfield Elementary are extremely supportive of the educators, especially during the virtual learning experience. She is grateful to have spent her career in an environment that is as passionate about education as she is.
“This is an amazing community, and that's why I'm still here,” said Bartlett. “I think because the community values education and they know how important it is that they're supportive of the teachers.”
Severna Park Middle School
Renee Austin has worked at Severna Park Middle School for 17 years. She attended Frostburg State University, where she studied speech communications and public relations, and she never intended to work in education. After a few years, she needed a change and made the career switch.
“I took a gamble, and I went back to get my master's degree actually in special education,” said Austin. “At that time there was a huge need and Prince George's County was hiring people who were new to teaching and they would help pay for it.”
She taught kindergarten in Prince George’s County for a few years before accepting a job at Severna Park Middle School to be closer to her family.
“It's funny because I went from kindergarten to here,” said Austin. “I was scared because in kindergarten, they're so loving and huggy. I wasn't sure what it was going to be like.”
She currently teaches Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Austin said this program is ideal for her because she can focus on teaching executive functioning skills and utilize her previous experience in business.
“You got to really develop these great relationships with students and help them see what they could do in their core classes,” said Austin. “It’s just like being their mom at school.”
Austin said that she knows middle school can be a difficult time for students, and she is honored to help them develop important skills during these years.
“The kids have amazing ideas; they have different perspectives on how they see things,” she said. “I love how they are willing to help each other out and how they're willing to help me out.”
When she learned that she was nominated, Austin admits that her reaction may not have traditional.
“I had a different feeling than I thought I would have felt,” said Austin. “I felt a little uncomfortable because I felt like so many teachers deserve Teacher of the Year.”
She said is grateful to have been nominated, but she is surrounded by incredible teachers every day.
“I just felt proud,” said Austin. “I was thankful to be recognized, but I would have kept doing what I was doing had I'd never been recognized.”
Stacey Curry from Arnold Elementary was also nominated, but she could not be reached before the June edition of the Voice went to print.
Editor’s Note: Three other Teacher of the Year nominees reached the semifinalist round and were previously featured in the Severna Park Voice. Those educators were Lauren Ebersberger (Magothy River Middle School), Melissa Quigley (Broadneck High School) and Sara Wagner (Folger McKinsey Elementary School).