Teachers of the Year help students soar
By Traci Chapman
It has been a great year for Mustang Elementary School art teacher Kent Hathaway.
First, the school’s “resident artist” led his students to a third consecutive “Made by Milk” annual contest win, bringing scores of attention to his students’ accomplishments, as well as a total of $15,000 to school coffers for the three wins. He then was given an “amazing” personal achievement – in his fifth year of teaching winning Teacher of the Year not only for ME but also for the entire district.
That’s what Hathaway said would describe his teaching experience. His career has been an ever-growing journey, changing both him and his students, he said.
“I can only hope I am half the educator they are. I’m honored to be selected to represent the best of Mustang,” Hathaway said.
Much of the credit for his success rides on the shoulders of someone who has been mentor, friend and guide on that journey – Mustang Elementary Principal Laquita Semmler, Hathaway said.
“When I was in fifth grade she took a chance on me as a student,” he said. “Then she took a chance on me again when she hired me with an alternative certification and not a standard teaching certificate.
“Without the effort and dedication she gave to her student, me, my accomplishments in Mustang may never have happened,” Hathaway said.
The Mustang alumni didn’t start with teaching, although he quickly came to realize that’s what he was meant to do, he said.
“I pursued a few creatively lifeless trades that gave me skills in banking, multimedia and project management,” Hathaway said. “I was divinely led to teaching and decided I would teach while I found out what it was I wanted to do with my life – and when I started teaching I realized I had found it.”
Hathaway said he is as inspired by his kindergarten through fourth grade students as he hopes they are by him.
“I spent a large part of my life living in the shadows of other peoples’ success,” he said. “With my students, there is no place I would rather be.”
Teaching is timeless, something that keeps every day fresh and new, Hathaway said.
“It was that first year teaching that I realized the dreams of students are the same whether it’s 1988 or 2014,” he said. “My students and I have a good relationship of sharing with each other our most wild and audacious ideas.”
Allison Boren said her career has been defined by that word, an experience she “wouldn’t trade for anything.” The special education kindergarten through fourth grade teacher at Mustang Creek Elementary was this year’s site Teacher of the Year, an honor she said she found humbling.
“I became a teacher to make a difference in the lives of children,” she said.
Boren is in her fourth year in Mustang in an eight-year teaching career, but that path was not always set in stone, she said.
“In school I wanted to be many things – a judge and a mechanic were two of the things I thought about,” Boren said. “Ha ha – I am definitely not mechanically inclined…I think I must have wanted to prove girls could do whatever boys could.”
Special education has its own set of challenges, but in the end all children can learn and grow, and Boren said she chose that particular specialty because she wanted to be part of that process.
“I feel fortunate to get to teach and learn from my students,” she said. “Watching them grow and seeing the excitement on their faces when they achieve their goals is the highlight of my job.
“It is very fulfilling to get to come to a school like Creek and work with amazing students and teachers, coming to a school everyday where we do the best for kids makes it all worth it,” Boren said. “It is an honor to get to help kids succeed and feel good about themselves.”
Doug Ketch began his career not teaching but in the U.S. Air Force, during an eight-year stint.
In 21 years in education, there is one word to describe each day, Ketch said – FUN.
“I have always enjoyed the students,” Ketch said. “We have great students here in Mustang.
“You never know what they might ask or what they might say,” he said. “It is a new day, every day and they keep me young.”
Ketch was one of two Mustang High School teachers honored with the TOY award. An algebra teacher, he said he received his inspiration early on.
“My junior and senior years in high school I had a math teacher that was exceptional – I already enjoyed math but she made things very easy for me,” he said. “I also had several high school and college coaches who were great role models for me and fueled my desire to coach.”
One thing that spurred him on year after year was the fact he was helping students in the long term, far beyond their school years.
“When you have only taught for one or two years you don’t have the benefit of students coming back and telling you how they enjoyed your class or that you made a difference to them,” he said. “After you teach a while you get to experience this and it makes you want to teach even more.
“I love numbers and math has normally been easy for me, and coaching at the high school level lets you be around athletes that love to compete,” Ketch said.
That’s how Sharrie Langston describes her career, but it also describes how students, parents and her fellow teachers view her, administrators said.
In a 33-year career, 25 of those years at Mustang Public Schools, Langston said she always knew she wanted to teach. Serving as a public education teacher, she was named Centennial Elementary School’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.
“I have never wanted to do anything but teach,” Langston said. “This is what I have always wanted to do and it has by far met all my expectations of fulfilling my dreams come true.”
Langston said although she always knew she wanted to teach, it was in high school she realized the importance of physical education in her life, and the dream evolved to coaching.
“Our small town was like the movie “Hoosiers,” where basketball was ‘life,’” she said. “I was now determined to share my passion of playing basketball with others by becoming a teacher.
“I went to Oklahoma Christian College on a basketball scholarship, but quit the team my first semester,” Langston said. “I felt such a defeat.”
That’s when her own mentor stepped in, she said.
“Max Dodson, my coach and mentor teacher, called me into his office and told me what a great teacher and coach I was going to be someday,” Langston said. “He asked if I would not quit school, but continued in the physical education program.
“Coach Dodson gave me the confidence I needed to once again believe in myself and pursue my dreams,” she said. “He is the reason I pursued a physical education degree to reach as many students that I could to make a difference.”
Langston has passed her love of teaching down to her own children, one of whom is also a teacher at Centennial.
“I am a mother of two Mustang graduates, Shathar who is a teacher at Centennial Elementary, and Cortney who works for Addison Group in Oklahoma City,” she said. “I am a Grammy to three precious grandchildren, Kellen, Langston, and Wren, and I love to quilt, scrapbook, and take a lot of pictures.
“My husband and I have been married for 34 years,” Langston said. “I have several generations of teachers in my family dating back to my great grandfather who was in the Oklahoma Land Run, and 3 of my 4 sisters who are teachers in the state of Missouri.”
Her family’s move to Mustang in 1980 was one of the smartest decisions they ever made, Langston said.
“Mustang is truly an outstanding town to work, live, and raise your children – the schools, churches, and people in this town are amazing,” she said. “The town of Mustang truly has made my childhood dreams come true and met all my expectations of becoming a teacher.”
Mustang Valley Elementary School’s 2013 Teacher of the Year originally majored in speech language pathology. More than 14 years later, she is a special education teacher helping kindergarten through third grade students begin their student lives in Mustang.
“I always had a special place in my heart for people who were at a disadvantage,” Winstead said. “I originally went to college for speech-language pathology which ended up not being a good fit.
“When I changed my major to special education, I knew immediately that that is what I wanted to do; it felt very natural,” she said.
In her five years in Mustang, Winstead said the challenge and the rewards of helping her students were the best part of her job.
“Although my job can be very challenging, I continue to teach because I want to truly make a difference in a child with special needs life as well as their family’s life,” Winstead said. “Very often my students’ progress can be very delayed; however, once I get to experience the opportunity of seeing their growth whether large or small, it makes me realize that the long wait is worth it.”
Winstead credits those she works with for a good deal of her success – it is they who make what can be an emotional journey much easier, she said.
“I work with several phenomenal teaching assistants,” she said. “I would not have received this award if it hadn’t been for these ladies.
“They work extremely hard each day in assisting our students and me and have a deep love for all of our kids,” Winstead said. “They are very giving and have the same goal as helping our students achieve the greatest amount of success.”
When the fork in the road came for her she made the right choice, she said.
A BLESSING – that is what Shelley Howell says best describes her career.
Named Mustang Education Center Teacher of the Year, Howell teaches pre-K at Mustang Education Center. Now in her 13th year of teaching, she has been in Mustang for two years, she said. It was a path Howell said she always knew she was destined for.
“I always knew even as a child that I loved children and wanted to do something working with kids,” Howell said.
It was in elementary school Howell first saw the kind of teacher she wanted to be, she said.
“In fifth grade, I had an amazing teacher named Linda Starling – she was the best,” Howell said. “I loved being in her class, she made learning fun and we knew she really cared about us too.”
“I keep teaching because I love the spark you see when a child is excited about learning,” she said. “I get to be the first exposure to school they have and hopefully help them develop a thirst for lifelong learning, plus pre-K is the best job in the world.”
As she is the first link to many children’s school life, each of her students has given her an amazing gift, Howell said.
“I’ve taught many students and they all touch my life in some way,” she said. “I feel rewarded when I am able to help them overcome an obstacle and teach them how to be successful.”
“When I was in high school, I thought I either wanted to be a teacher or attorney – thank goodness I chose teaching,” Howell said.
REWARDING is the one word that tells the story of Shelly Starr’s teaching experience, she said.
After looking at being a counselor, social worker or policewoman, Starr said she kept coming back to teaching.
“Being a teacher was my ultimate career choice and by teaching, I get to be a little of all of them,” she said.
Mustang North Middle School’s Teacher of the Year also teaches special education, as well as coaching 7th and 8th grade softball and track. Now in her 20th year of teaching, it is her seventh year at Mustang Public Schools, all of them spent at Mustang North, Starr said.
The teacher’s influence came early, from another teacher close to her heart – her mom.
“My greatest influence would have to be my mother – she just retired from teaching after 44 years,” she said. “I look up to her.”
Special education was the perfect fit for her and her goals as a teacher, Starr said.
“Every child can learn if you just give them time,” she said. “I like to see how they (middle school students) are preparing for their future.”
Starr has two children and a brother, Brian, who works for the forestry department, as well as her parents, who are her heroes, she said.
“Then the most important part of my life is God,” Starr said. “Without him I would be nothing.”
That’s been the career of Mustang Middle School English teacher Tessa Mayfield. She has inspired many others, as well, and she has been honored with this year’s MMS Teacher of the Year honor to prove it.
“I did not think that I would grow up and become a teacher,” Mayfield said. “I actually wanted to work as a librarian and write on the side.
It wasn’t until I was in the classroom during my college years that I decided I would actually prefer to teach,” she said.
Mayfield has taught for nine years, all of them in Mustang. Having a lasting impact on students is what continues to motivate her year after year, she said.
“A student I had eight years ago as an 8th grader still emails me every year on my birthday to check in, say hello, and give me the annual update,” Mayfield said. “There aren’t many jobs that give you the opportunity to make that kind of impact on teenagers.”
Jami Hasty teaches fifth grade special education at Canyon Ridge Intermediate Center. Teaching collaboratively in math, ELA, science and social studies, Hasty was chosen as this year’s Teacher of the Year for the site.
“I have known since I was a little girl that I would become a teacher, but it wasn’t until I was in college my first year, that I realized I would go into the area of special education,” Hasty said.
That was more than 12 years ago in a career that’s been spent entirely at Mustang Public Schools, Hasty said.
“The reason I keep teaching is simple,” Hasty said. “I love working with special ed. students.
“Don’t get me wrong, my job can be very difficult and there are challenges each day,” she said. “However, the positives outweigh any of the negatives – the students’ smiles when they accomplish difficult tasks, their excitement when they see me, and their determination to prove that they can overcome certain situations makes what I do completely worth it.”
“I truly feel that God gave me the desire and the ability to be the teacher I am today – I also believe that God placed certain people in my life that would mold me into the teacher I have become today,” Hasty said. “I know with all my heart that this is my calling in life.”
Mustang High School computer technology teacher Dave Rankin is going out on a high note. After 39 years of teaching, Rankin – who also serves as wrestling and tennis coach – will retire at the end of the year. He has worked at Mustang Public Schools for 37 years.
“I love working with young adults,” Rankin said. “Their learning curve and their hunger for knowledge is infectious.
“I love watching people succeed and being a part of it,” he said.
Rankin began at University of Oklahoma as a business major, where his coach redshirted him as a sophomore wrestler. That year he coached the Little Sooner Wrestling Team, comprised of five- to 10-year olds, he said.
“It was a life changing event for me and I changed my major to business education the next semester,” Rankin said. “I fell in love with changing lives through teaching and coaching.”
He has in turn changed a lot of lives during his 39-year career.
“I’ve had over 12,000 students – to me all of my students have been special and successful in their own right,” he said.
“Teaching at Mustang Public Schools has been a great experience for me,” Rankin said. “Over the years I’ve seen it transformed from a small 2A school to a huge 7A school.
“I’ve seen a huge contrast, but through it all it has been a great community of people striving for a great school system,” he said. “As I approach retirement I have a great feeling about a wonderful, thriving town, named Mustang – I’m one of its biggest fans.”
Lakehoma Elementary School second grade teacher Vikki Dodson is 2013 Teacher of the Year for that site. She has been teaching 18 years, 13 of them in Mustang, she said. It was an easy career path to take, once she began college, Dodson said.
“I made my decision to become a teacher after my freshman year in college,” Dodson said. “I started out as a business administration major, but that summer a college softball coach asked me to help out with several summer camps.
“I traveled around the state working with kids of all ages,” she said. “That experience reminded me of getting to help with basketball camps in high school, and I realized how much I loved working with younger children.
“I owe a big thank you to Angela Sullivan for asking me to help that summer and find my calling in life,” she said.
Her students make every day fun and rewarding, Dodson said.
“I look forward to the hugs and smiles I get every day,” she said. “They are always full of energy, eager to learn, and they want to please their teacher.
“They keep me on my toes and always make me want to do my best,” Dodson said. “Not many people can say they love their job, but I love my job.”
Horizon Intermediate Center Teacher of the Year is Pam Shade. She began “teaching” at an early age, when she played the teacher and her younger sister was her student, she said. She has been teaching for 23 years, all in Mustang, the MHS graduate said.
Five years ago, Shade changed her career path a bit, she said.
“I began to have a desire for helping students with disabilities,” Shade said. “Although I truly still enjoyed teaching and helping the average students, I also found a real passion for helping the students with disabilities.
“The excitement in their voice or the look on their face when they accomplished a task they had been struggling with was a true reward for a teacher,” she said. “Each year it seemed there was always one or two students in my classroom that required that extra help, someone to think outside the box, or just be willing to be extra patient – and each year my passion for being that person increased.”