2014 Delaware Teacher of the Year also selected for Global Learning Fellowship.
Appoquinimink High School French teacher Lea Wainwright has already received accolades at the district and state levels, and now she is being honored in national and international programs.
Wainwright previously had been selected as the 2014 Appoquinimink School District Teacher of the Year and then the 2014 Delaware Teacher of the Year and 2014 Appoquinimink Teacher of the Year.
In February, Wainwright will be honored by the National Education Association Foundation with an Award for Teaching Excellence along with other 39 educators from across the nation. And next summer, she will travel to Peru as a Global Learning Fellow.
Q For those readers who may not know about your accomplishments, tell us about your work and your achievements.
Wainwright: I began teaching French twenty years ago. My philosophy of education has not changed much over the years except to add a global perspective to what I hope students take away from my classroom. Throughout my career, I’ve taken every opportunity to allow my students to contemplate and discuss global issues, especially in upper level classes. These opportunities might manifest themselves by doing research in French, skyping with a French class or actually visiting France. I’ve led many trips abroad, two of which have included home stays with French sister schools. I hope that it’s obvious to all of our stakeholders that the students sitting in classrooms today are the leaders of tomorrow. As an educational community, we have to do our part to make sure that today’s students are prepared to be tomorrow’s intelligent, cultured problem solvers, who lead collaboratively with humility and compassion. A world language class is the ideal setting to practice these important twenty-first century skills. Having students buy into the importance of this work is what I count as one of my greatest achievements.
Q You were recognized as Delaware's 2014 Teacher of the Year, tell us what made you stand out from the rest of the nominees. How did you feel when you found out you had won?
Wainwright:To be honest, there was an incredibly strong pool of candidates for the state award. Any one of us would have served our state well. Delaware takes great pride in its educators and ensures that the process used to select a representative pays due homage to our profession. I can’t be sure why I was selected, but I hope it was because of my global perspective on education. Students don’t want to learn any content area just to learn it. They want to see it as a tool which will serve them well in the future. I don’t teach French so that students can conjugate verbs or agree adjectives. I teach it so they can use it as a vehicle to solve problems whether that problem be ordering in a restaurant or wrestling with global deforestation, collaboratively across many countries.
When I was selected, of course, I was shocked. I am so honored to have been chosen and hope to represent the educators of Delaware to the best of my abilities. If you know a great teacher, you know how hard they work, often long hours at school and at home. They deserve my best.
Q You will be honored by the NEA for the work you've done. How does it feel to be on the national spotlight?
Wainwright: I am not a spotlight person. Ask any teacher and he or she will say that we do it for the students, not for the awards and accolades. The faces of our students are what keep us coming to work every day. But being in the spotlight is something I’ve had to get used to. I have a great support team: my family, my peers, my administration, and my state. The Delaware State Education Association and the Delaware Department of Education have been wonderful throughout this process.
Q What advice would you give to teachers who want to do their best and excel in the classroom as you have done?
Wainwright: I am lucky enough to have been chosen many years ago to work with new teachers in my district so I think about this on a regular basis. If a teacher wants to do his or her best as you say in your question, then that’s half the battle. Finding his or her best is the other half. It’s a never-ending process of professional development and research, lesson planning, diagnosing, teaching, learning, and then redoing what wasn’t perfect in a lesson, unit, or course. Not sure if you know this or not, but few things in life are ever perfect. I’ve been teaching for twenty years and have rarely taught any lesson the same way twice.
Besides treating teaching as the profession that it is, it helps to love what you do. My best moments aren’t sitting at home at night grading papers. It’s watching student faces to see when it all clicks, when the bulb lights up in each mind or doesn’t and then love it enough to figure out yet another new method to get the learning across to each student. Teaching is not a job; it’s a way of life.
Q You'll be traveling to Peru next summer, tell us what you hope to get out from that trip?
Wainwright: I am so thrilled for this opportunity. It’s hard to describe. I was honored when Frederika Jenner and the DSEA nominated me for this award, but had no idea how lucky I was to be nominated. As an awardee, I have become a member of the Class of 2015 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellowship. This fellowship provides me with yearlong professional development on the topic of global competence, a topic which is very near to my heart and critical in a student’s education. I will be personally learning global competence skills, taking courses, and writing units which will become available to other like-minded educators who want students to have a global perspective. In Peru, we will all come together and brainstorm this topic with Peruvian educators and policy-makers as well as learn about their educational system. It’s exactly the type of work which will allow me to share this global vision with my students. I am so very fortunate to get to experience this.