On May 3, 2011 President Barack Obama presented the 2011 National Teacher of the Year award to Maryland high school chemistry teacher Michelle Shearer. Consistent with U.S. tradition, the award ceremony took place at a reception for teachers in the White House Rose Garden. Ms. Shearer was selected National Teacher of the Year from a pool of the winners of State Teacher of the Year awards from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, several U.S. territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity, some of whom attended the reception. In addition to Maryland, the finalists for the national award included teachers from Florida, Illinois, and Montana.
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) began the National Teacher of the Year Program in 1952 to award excellence in teaching. According to the CCSSO website, “A candidate for National Teacher of the Year should be an exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable, and skilled teacher in any state-approved or accredited school, pre-kindergarten through grade twelve, who is planning to continue in an active teaching status.” A May 3rd article in Education Week online stated that Ms. Shearer has been a teacher for 14 years, four of which were spent teaching Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry to deaf students, conducting class exclusively in sign language. The article stated that she began teaching AP Chemistry at her current school in 1997 with 11 students enrolled in the class and “now there are 92” students enrolled. According to the article, her students have a 90% pass rate on the AP Chemistry exam and there are as many female as male students in her classes as well as students with disabilities. She is quoted as saying that her students have taught her to “always see abilities, not disabilities.”
As part of her duties as National Teacher of the Year, MS. Shearer will spend a year away from her teaching duties to serve as a spokeswoman and advocate for the teaching profession. Ms. Shearer told reporters that she is planning a speaking tour across the country to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and the importance of “making it accessible to students with special needs, minorities, and young women.”