Christine Ground teaches English at Northwest High School in Germantown. She was named the Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher of the Year for 2012-2013 on April 25.
She was interviewed at Northwest High School on May 8.
Congratulations on being named Teacher of the Year. What are the rights/privileges/duties of being Teacher of the Year?
I have the same rights and responsibilities that I have always had as a teacher. I am currently working on a pretty intense application to enter the Maryland State Teacher of the Year Competition. It is a lot of writing and thinking, but it is well worth my time.
The biggest privilege is that I am invited to attend many local and state events, and these events give me the opportunity to meet the other county teacher of the year nominees, as well as other very important people working for the Maryland State Education system.
Basically, everything is very exciting, and there is a lot of opportunity to collaborate with people outside of my school.
The most challenging part about being teacher of the year is that there are so many teachers in this school that deserved the award.
Do you know who nominated you?
My principal nominated me. I was completely overwhelmed when I was told I was nominated. According to her I was a “master teacher” and I showed every student I believed in them and I wouldn’t let them forget.
Tell me about your teaching career. What lead you to become a teacher?
It was a mistake. I had no intention of being a teacher. I love people and taking care of them but I started out as a theater and dance major and when I realized that would not be my future career, I changed to English. I love to read and write.
After I graduated and needed a job, my mom, who is a school health room nurse, suggested I substitute teach, so I did.
I got a long-term sub position here at Northwest High School. It was supposed to be two weeks, it turned out to be half a year.
I loved it. I wondered why I never thought of it before.
I was not certified so they could not hire me. I worked with the resource teacher, Cindy Kruglak. As soon as I realized there was an opportunity to become a teacher I started taking classes.
What did you like about it?
I think I liked so much that each day is a new day. Each day is really a new beginning. I liked the connections I am able to make with the curriculum and with each individual student.
Why did you pick English?
As an English teacher what we read and what we write can be opinion based. We have discussions, the students get to express their opinions.
I think to be an effective teacher you need to show the students you are human and you know they are humans — it’s transferring knowledge between humans and there is feeling. I think for the most part that is the skill I can bring to the students.
How many students do you have?
I have 30 students per class and five classes, that’s 150 students per day. I teach all levels. We have a signature program here and I teach two classes of signature honors English. I co-teach an honors class that is one-half honors students and one-half special education. And I teach two regular education classes.
Our population is extremely diverse. I don’t just mean race, but social-economic status, religion and learning abilities. It’s wonderful.
What do you especially like working with ninth-graders?
They are so new and trying to negotiate their way through this big school ... these big people. It’s nice [for them] to have a friend.
Do you consider yourself their friend?
A confidant, a trustworthy adult. It’s a hard line to balance.
One question I get asked is, “When are you going to stop teaching?” I will when I think the kids cannot see me as someone to trust, someone they can relate to because I don’t want to just teach them the curriculum.
Tell me about working within the curriculum.
One of the things we do is look closely at what they need. We look at a lot of everything. It’s literature based with an emphasis on responsive writing and there is some grammar. We are being asked to hold high standards, which we should, but we don’t have the resources. We do our best.
Are the students prepared for ninth-grade English?
I would say 80 percent of our students are well prepared. That means 20 percent are not.
MCPS is adopting the Common Core Standards of Maryland, it’s new. We are trying to improve standards. We are trying to increase their critical thinking skills.
What are those standards?
We expect that our students will be able to analyze, interpret and evaluate text. Not just read.
The role of the teacher at the high school level is not to have the students read, but to pose the questions to allow them to think critically.
You have mentioned students’ self-esteem. How do you foster that?
It’s such a delicate thing. I always try to point out something that is very unique to every student. I like to display their work, even if it’s only a sentence with their name under it, or it can be as simple as a compliment. I want to give them the chance to know there is a good part of them. I try to remind them that there is something about them that is really special. It boosts their self-esteem for the moment and if they think you are looking at them in a positive way, they act more positive.
One question I always ask English teachers: What is your favorite book?
My favorite author is Jodi Picoult. I like that she takes real issues and turns them into a story.
My favorite to teach is “Romeo and Juliet” because it is very complex. The kids hate it — it’s the language — but the feelings are so modern, the feelings they have are real. A teacher has to be able to answer the question, “When am I going to use this?” and I tell them if you can understand this, you can understand anything.
You also said every person has a gift ... what is yours?
I have been given the gift to believe in others, as well as the gift to communicate my belief in others.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It’s an amazing job and I wish teachers got more credit than they do. On the other hand, it’s the most gratifying job out there.
“Voices in Education” is a twice-monthly feature that highlights the men and women who are involved with the education of Montgomery County’s children. To suggest someone you would like to see featured e-mail Peggy McEwan at email@example.com.