As Michelle Shearer, the 2011 National Teacher of the Year, tours the country over the next 12 months, she will be encouraging teachers to make the stem fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—accessible to all students, including those with special needs.
Ms. Shearer, a Maryland chemistry teacher who was honored last week by President Barack Obama, has lived that mission throughout her 14-year career.
She became interested in teaching after volunteering at a school for the deaf while a premedical student at Princeton University. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and earning a teaching certificate, she taught chemistry and math, including at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick. She now teaches Advanced Placement chemistry at the 1,600-student Urbana High School, in Ijamsville, Md.
At the ceremony on May 3, President Obama described Ms. Shearer’s specialty as “taking students that are normally underrepresented in science … and helping them discover the scientist within.”
Ms. Shearer said her students taught her “to always see abilities, not disabilities.” Her advanced classes have included students with learning disabilities and Asperger syndrome. “It’s about getting students to believe in themselves and take ownership,” she said.
In addition to promoting STEM education, Ms. Shearer hopes to “elevate the level of the teaching profession.”
“I’m a Princeton grad, and people like to remind me that I could have done whatever I wanted,” she said. “I tell them I’m doing exactly what I want to do.”
The National Teacher of the Year Program is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers and is sponsored by ING and the Target Corp.
A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2011 edition of Education Week as 2011 Teacher of the Year Sees ‘Abilities, Not Disabilities’