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2005 Teacher of the Year
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Debra Leonard

TOYS 2005 Debra LeonardA graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in English, Debbie has taught for 19 years.  She coordinates the New Teacher Mentor Program and the Advanced Placement Experience (APEX) Program at Middletown High School.  She is a member of her school improvement team and serves as a staff development trainer for Dr. Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” program.  Additionally, Debbie has in-serviced faculty on Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  She was named the FCPS Character Counts Employee of the Year, selected a Hood College Distinguished Scholar, received numerous nominations for Who’s Who Among American Teachers, and awarded The Washington Post and “7-11 Those Who Read Achieve” Grants.

How has the way you teach changed over the course of your career?  What lessons have you learned?

I learned that teaching is more than teaching content.  I encourage lively discussions and welcome different opinions in my classroom.  I attempt to develop relationships by seeking to understand individual students, by giving and expecting courtesies, by setting clear expectations, by demonstrating personal integrity, and most important, by apologizing.

What advice would you give to a teach who’s starting their first year and feels overwhelmed?

Set small, achievable goals, and break down each task into manageable pieces.  If your school system has a county-wide mentoring program or some program that brings together new teachers, join it.  You will then have a support group of veteran teachers and novice teachers feeling and experiencing the same situations as you.

What do you think the biggest challenge that teachers face today is, and why?  How do you meet it?

Teachers are charged with meeting the needs of all students and ensuring academic success for our schools, while facing school and non-school factors that underlie student achievement.  My attempt to meet these demands is to establish a relationship with my school’s community, stay abreast of the changes in education, and always remember why I teach—the children.

What do you think the key has been to your success as a teacher?

I attribute my success to a positive attitude.  I stay clear of the negative elements in my building and realize that I set the tone in my classroom.  If my students feel the positive energy in my lessons, they will feel good about their learning experience.



U.S. Department of Education Star Schools Program