Education

50th Teacher of the Year Shifted Her Career Path

By Naomi Greengrass — May 17, 2000 2 min read
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Marilyn Jachetti Whirry took an unusual route in her education career, but that route eventually brought her to the White House Rose Garden, where she was honored last week as the National Teacher of the Year 2000.

“My only regret today,” said President Clinton at the ceremony, “is that I’ve never been in one of Marilyn Whirry’s classes.”

The California teacher is the 50th recipient of the award, which is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic Inc.

National Teacher of the Year 2000 Marilyn Jachetti Whirry has taught English for 34 years and tries to convey to students “a recognition that there is pain and suffering in the world.”
—Ralf Steir

Ms. Whirry, 65, who has taught English at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, Calif., for 34 years, graduated from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in English and history. She intended to pursue a career in television journalism. However, while earning her master’s degree in English and philosophy from Immaculate Heart, a scholarship required that she teach an English class to college students.

A few days into her assignment, “I knew what was happening, and didn’t want it to happen. I was transformed into a teacher,” Ms. Whirry said in a telephone interview before the May 11 ceremony here. And since then, she has not wanted to do anything else.

She taught English at Immaculate Heart before spending one year at Newton High School in Newton, Mass. She returned to California in 1967 and signed on in her current position at the 2,200-student Mira Costa High, along the way earning a doctorate in contemporary literature from International College in Los Angeles.

In addition to teaching high school English, Ms. Whirry has taught English and education at the college level and serves as an adjunct professor of education at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She has also acted as a consultant for other school districts and presented workshops to teachers and administrators.

Those experiences have helped her continue to “learn and grow as a teacher and to come back to the classroom as a better teacher.” Ms. Whirry said she wants her students to leave class with a “desire to continue to search for knowledge and a passion to continue learning and for living.” She also hopes they will gain a “sense of compassion, a recognition that there is pain and suffering in the world,” and an understanding of “the concept of commitment.”

As the National Teacher of the Year, Ms. Whirry will spend the next year traveling across the country and internationally as a spokeswoman for education. One message she hopes to convey is the need to improve the recruitment and retention of educators.

Ms. Whirry was selected out of all of the state teachers of the year and, ultimately, from four finalists.

The other finalists were: Margaret Holtschlag, a 4th grade teacher at Murphy Elementary School in Haslett, Mich.; P. Brett Smith, a music teacher at O.H. Anderson Elementary School in Mahtomedi, Minn.; and Mitsuye Conover, a history teacher at Bartlesville High School in Bartlesville, Okla.

A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2000 edition of Education Week as 50th Teacher of the Year Shifted Her Career Path

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