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2005 Teacher of the Year
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Julia Thayer

TOYS 2005 Julia ThayerMs. Thayer is an English teacher at Frederick Douglass High School.  She has taught in the Prince George’s County Public School system since graduating from the University of Delaware in 1976.  Ms. Thayer began her career teaching at Sasscer Junior High, moving to Goddard Junior High in 1977.  She has made Frederick Douglass, her alma mater, her home for the last twenty-seven years.  A master teacher, she has taught every grade level of English from 8 to 12, including honors classes. She has mentored new teachers and has served on the faculty advisory council.

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

I have learned that as a teacher I am making a difference in the lives of my students, whether I know it or not.  I realized that along with my lesson plans, and sometimes regardless of my lesson plans, I am teaching who I am.  It is a mysterious process and it is not always what we mean to happen.  But first and foremost, it seems to me, we teach ourselves.  As a result, I have become more willing over the course of my career to examine my life and pay attention to what I find.  It is through this introspection and honest evaluation of myself that I have become a more effective teacher.  I am more willing to analyze my own motivations, objectives, and intentions in the classroom and then act on what I find.

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

A wonderful thing about teaching is that there are so many new beginnings.  There are new years, new semesters, new quarters, new weeks, and new days.  There is even a new period coming right up.  When you make a mistake, and you will, you can correct it tomorrow.  When a particular lesson or technique hasn’t worked, know that you will have another chance at success.  There are so many opportunities in teaching, and it is always a work in progress.   

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

The main thing that has made my teaching meaningful for both my students and me is that I know how important I am.  My classroom belongs to me, and through the fate of scheduling, the students in my classroom belong to me, too.   And I am theirs, also.   I do what it takes to make my classroom a meaningful place.  That is my first priority.  I teach, I reteach, I grade, and I keep good records.  These are just the basics, and they should go without saying when describing a teacher. 

Being responsible for what goes on in my classroom means that the failures of my students are my failures.  It also means that my students’ successes are mine, too.  I am willing to take some credit.  Teachers are important.

How do you keep your students engaged in the classroom?

I engage my students by being engaged myself.  I am willing to laugh.  I am willing to be wrong.  And I am willing to be taught.  In general this has meant that students laugh with me, forgive me, teach me and learn from me.  I ask questions, and I communicate as clearly as possible what I want.  Students answer my questions, ask questions of me, and try to give me what I ask for.  I respect my profession and myself,  and I respect the dignity of my students.  They respond in kind.  That is my reward.    Joseph Campbell wrote, “The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”   Little by little, day-by-day, over the last twenty-nine years, I have found that to be true in my classroom.



U.S. Department of Education Star Schools Program