A high school English teacher from Iowa who sees herself as the “lead learner” in her classroom has been named the 2010 National Teacher of the Year.
Under a picture-perfect blue sky during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Barack Obama described Sarah Brown Wessling as passionate and creative and highlighted her innovative teaching style. He also shared the words of one of Ms. Wessling’s students, who described the experience of being in her class in glowing terms: “No discussion was fruitless, no assignment was pointless, and not one day was boring.”
Speaking after the president during the April 29 ceremony, the 35-year-old educator described her classroom as a place where the teacher is the “lead learner,” and “the classroom walls are boundless.” The fact that she consigned her desk to a back corner of the room, she explained, “is an outward sign of an implicit philosophy that teaching must be learner-centered.”
Ms. Wessling, who teaches 10th through 12th grade English at the 1,300-student Johnston (Iowa) High School, has been in the classroom for 11 years and at her present school for 10. This year, Ms. Wessling, the department chair since 2003, created 15 new English courses, President Obama said.
Once students fulfill their requirements, they can select from such classes as “On the Road,” which explores metaphorical and physical journeys; “Sport, Competition, and Culture,” which looks at the cultural significance of sports; and “Genders’ Game,” which takes on the role of gender in history.
Johnston High School Principal Bruce Hukee said his school has made an effort to create courses that hold greater-than-usual appeal to students. “Sarah was very instrumental in creating classes that are more interesting to kids, giving them the opportunity to pick a class that they are interested in, instead of doing the same type of curriculum,” Mr. Hukee said in an interview.
Clay Guthmiller, the superintendent of the Johnston Community School District, described the curriculum model as “relevant.” “We have gone to more titled courses to create more interest for our kids and to create a more integrated approach [to learning],” he said.
A National Board-certified teacher, Ms. Wessling has earned a host of other honors, including the Promising Teacher Award and the Future Leader in Education Award, both from the Iowa Council of Teachers of English. The National Teacher of the Year Program is sponsored by ING and Target and is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers.
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2010 edition of Education Week as Obama Lauds High School Educator Named 2010 National Teacher of the Year