Lea Wainwright was on maternity leave from a plumbing wholesaler when a struggling student came to her for some extra tutoring.
"The light bulb just went off and I realized this is what I wanted to do," the French teacher at Appoquinimink High School said. "The next day I enrolled in classes at the University of Delaware to get my teaching certificate."
More than 20 years later, that decision culminated in Wainwright being named the Delaware's 2014 Teacher of the Year.
Governor Jack Markell announced the Appoquinimink High School French teacher as the 2014 winner tonight in front of almost 500 guests at the Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center in Dover.
“In a civilization (that) lives by social media, the language classroom is one place where face-to-face conversation is taught and sustained,” she wrote in her application portfolio. “Students who move on from my classroom will have had innumerable occasions to interact with others in a meaningful way and across two continents.”
Gregory Fulkerson, the state’s former education associate for world languages and international education, praised Wainwright for “creating a new generation of global innovators.
“Using the French language as a vehicle for probing global issues, Lea has challenged her students to use their new language skills to communicate ideas, solve problems and establish long-lasting, cross-cultural friendships with peers across the world,” Fulkerson wrote in a letter recommending her for the honor.
Robert Dina Jr., a student of Wainwright during all four years he attended Appoquinimink High School, said her class was fun and challenging.
“Her approach to teaching wasn’t the same as everyone else’s. She demanded more, and it really made you dig down to find out what you were capable of,” he wrote in his letter of support.
Wainwright also is a leader outside the classroom, including serving as a lead mentor for new teachers, participating on a state teacher advisory committee, helping develop statewide teacher evaluation measures, coaching lacrosse and volunteering in the community.
Mentoring is one of her greatest passions.
“Teacher burn-out is a critical problem,” she wrote in her portfolio. “It seems that the new teacher gets the largest classes and multiple courses so they have more preparation to do in the same amount of time as a veteran teacher.”
As the lead mentor for both high schools in her district, Wainwright links veteran teachers with new teachers to help them through their first year. She also conducts workshops to address issues such as grade reporting, parent conferencing, lesson planning “and the 83 other things good teachers have to master. Maybe more importantly, I listen to them and do everything I can to help them succeed.”
Page 2 of 2 - Elise Summer was one of those new teachers who relied on Wainwright during her first year teaching last year.
“I would refer to Lea as my work mother,” Summer wrote. “Not only did she boost my self-esteem but also gave me advice I will never forget. Her kind heart and honest words always left me excited for our next conversation.”
The process of selecting Delaware’s Teacher of the Year is designed to find that teacher who is most representative of the entire profession through in-class observations, portfolio reviews and consideration of finalists by a representative panel.
Wainwright inherits from outgoing Teacher of the Year John Sell the responsibility of representing all teachers in Delaware. She will address community groups, business leaders, legislators, and educational organizations to inform the public about the status of Delaware schools. She also will become Delaware’s candidate in the National Teacher of the Year Program. Sponsored by Target, it is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with the ING Foundation, Phoenix University and People to People Ambassador Programs.
By action of the General Assembly, she will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, as well two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000. The remaining 18 school district candidates each will receive a personal grant of $2,000.
Wainwright also will receive an educational technology package valued at approximately $18,000 from the SMART Technologies, ULC.
Additionally, she will receive: a $1,000 grant for educational/classroom use from American Institutes for Research; grants from the Delaware State Education Association, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Professional Standards Board; a State of Delaware Teacher of the Year commemorative plate from the Division of Motor Vehicles; free graduate-level courses from Delaware’s higher education institutions, including a full doctorate program from Wilmington University and University of Delaware; a gold watch from the Delaware State Teachers of the Year Association; a 10-karat gold ring from Jostens; and lunch in Washington D.C. with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper.
Wainwright’s selection as Delaware’s top educator makes her the 50th Teacher of the Year since Delaware’s recognition program began in 1965.
She was named the 2014 Teacher of the Year in the Appoquinimink School District in April.