Michelle Shearer, a chemistry teacher at Urbana High School in Ijamsville, Md., has been selected as the 61st National Teacher of the Year, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Shearer, a 14-year classroom veteran, is certified in both chemistry and special education and currently teaches Advanced Placement chemistry at Urbana. Previously, she taught chemistry and math at the Maryland School for the Deaf. According to her application for the award, she was the first teacher to offer an AP chemistry class at MSD in the school’s 135-year history.
“I make a concerted effort to reach out to students who have traditionally been underrepresented in scientific fields, i.e. our students with special needs and disabilities, our minority students, and our young women,” she wrote.
While studying as a pre-medical student at Princeton University, Shearer began volunteering at a local school for the deaf. Based on that experience, she decided to earn her teaching certificate in addition to a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Shearer says she is committed to preparing a broad range of students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. On her application, she wrote:
Chemistry is everywhere, and thus chemistry is for everyone. Everyone. Not just college-bound students, students of a particular ethnic group, or even students of a certain age. The teaching of chemistry can begin in a preschool classroom with household materials, as young students marvel at the bubbles, color changes, and visual "magic" inherent to chemistry. High school students demand to know, "What does this have to do with me?" I display a collection of random household items (sunscreen, laundry detergent, motor oil, shampoo, etc.) across the tops of cabinets as a constant reminder to my students of the practical role chemistry plays in their lives. When students feel connected not only to the teacher but to the subject itself, they quickly become eager to explore.
Shearer was chosen by representatives of 14 national education organizations from among the 2011 State Teachers of the Year. President Barack Obama will honor Shearer and the state winners in a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.