Maryland Chemistry Teacher Named Best in Nation

A high school chemistry teacher in Frederick, Md. is the 2011 National Teacher of the Year.


A Maryland high school chemistry teacher is the 2011 National Teacher of the Year, named by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Michelle Shearer, who has been teaching at Urbana High School in Frederick, Md. for 10 years, will be honored by President Obama on Tuesday.

"This is a tremendous honor, an incredible opportunity for me to advocate for students, represent teachers, and draw positive attention to our collective efforts in public education," Shearer said in a statement.

Shearer was chosen from a group of four finalists, each of whom was interviewed in March by a committee of officials from various national education organizations in Washington, D.C. Finalists were selected from a pool of 2011 State Teachers of the Year.

"Michelle believes passionately in her students, and works tirelessly to help each of them to achieve at their highest possible level, making her an outstanding choice for this honor," Maryland State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said in a statement. "We are proud to have her represent our state and this profession, and we are grateful to her students for allowing the nation to borrow her for the next year."

In 2009, she won the Siemens Award for Advanced Placement teachers of chemistry.

Before teaching at Urbana, Shearer was a chemistry teacher at the Maryland School for the Deaf, where she was one of only a few teachers with full hearing. When the school decided it wanted to add an AP calculus class, she was tapped to teach it. In American Sign Language, many advanced science and math concepts do not have signs, but Shearer worked around it.

"She has the passion and the drive to ensure that each individual in the classroom had a precise understanding of the content she was teaching," Derrick Williams, one of her former students, said last year. "She was able to paint a precise picture for each student to grasp understanding of what she was trying to explain."

Urbana High School has 1,600 students. Shearer teaches all levels of chemistry at the school, and 90 percent of her Advanced Placement students pass the exam. Nationally, the pass rate is just 55 percent. She has also coached swimming and girls' lacrosse at the school. Urbana's SAT scores are the best in Frederick County, and the school also leads the county in the number of AP tests taken and passed..

In her application for the award, Shearer wrote that she takes pride in her students' test scores, but also in teaching them to be prepared for life after high school.

"I am accountable not only for my students' AP scores, but also for fostering habits of mind such as creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and skills essential to success in college and careers," she wrote. "I am accountable for ensuring students' self-confidence, independence, resilience, perseverance, and traits essential to success in life."

Shearer, who holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Princeton University and studied deaf education at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. and McDaniel College in Maryland, says chemistry is essential. "Chemistry is everywhere, and thus chemistry is for everyone. Everyone. Not just college-bound students, [or] students of a particular ethnic group, or even students of a certain age," she wrote.

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