AURORA, Colo. – Amanda Westenberg, a social studies teacher at Rangeview High School in Aurora and member of the Aurora Education Association, was named the 2013 Colorado Teacher of the Year by State Education Commissioner Robert Hammond in front of the student body at a school assembly, Oct. 26, 2012.
Hammond told the Rangeview students that Westenberg “is always striving to improve her instructional practices and help her students find relevance in their education.”
Pointing to Westenberg’s recent trips to Japan and China for international education opportunities, Hammond added, “She uses this experience to make her lessons interactive and engaging, without sacrificing rigor or applicability.”
Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, was one of several state education leaders at the assembly to congratulate Westenberg. A fellow social studies teacher in Arvada, Dallman said Westenberg exemplifies the qualities of great teaching that really matter to students.
“What matters is what teachers actually do in the classroom everyday with students. It’s about that perfect marriage of rigor, relevance and relationships, all brought together with student engagement,” Dallman said in her remarks. “How teachers interact with their students, how they deliver instruction, how they’re constantly seeking best practices and even better practices – that’s what matters.”
Student engagement made the difference for Westenberg with Jada Boyd, a Rangeview senior who admitted she “hated history” when starting Westenberg’s class as a sophomore. Jada told her fellow students at the assembly how “Amanda Westenberg has truly changed my life.”
Calling Westenberg “one of the most vibrant teachers I had ever met,” Jada related how her teacher found ways to make history class enjoyable through games, debates and projects.
“For History Day, I found myself working harder than I ever had,” said Jada. “[Westenberg] never gave up on her students. To this day, I find myself looking back at the website I created under her instruction as an accomplishment. I was proud of myself for working hard, and she was proud too.”
John Barry, superintendent of Aurora Public Schools, spoke of his pride in Westenberg and how “having a global perspective, and having Amanda be able to bring that to us, is a rich gift.
“Every adult will always remember the teacher or teachers who had an incredible impact on their lives. We all reflect on that,” Barry continued. “Amanda represents 2,000 teachers in the school district here in Aurora. Our teachers and staff are here, because like Amanda, they care about all of you becoming successful adults in this global economy.”
“Today is not a moment to honor one teacher, but rather, a time to honor the teaching profession,” Westenberg said in accepting the award. She told the students they inspired her to be the best teacher she could be.
“Every teacher is someone’s favorite because of the connection that he or she made with the student,” said Westenberg. “What inspires us teachers is the opportunity to make that connection, so that our students can learn in part because of the strong teacher-student bond that is formed. At Rangeview, we teachers are inspired.”
Westenberg, an eight-year veteran teacher, serves as the social studies department chair and is currently developing interactive advanced placement curriculum. She will meet with the president at the White House as part of the National Teacher of the Year Program and receive many professional development opportunities, including attendance at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s annual International Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
The three other finalists for the 2013 Colorado Teacher of the Year award are CEA members Karen Johnson (STEM Magnet Lab School, Northglenn) and Theresa Collins (Centaurus High School, Lafayette), and Hollyanna Bates (Dillon Valley Elementary School, Dillon).
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