James Mundy has taught an average of 150 Howard County students a year for more than 15 years, but each year brings a difference: new students, new challenges.
"Every year, the game's the same, but the players are different. If we want these kids to win at the game of life, we have to focus on that," Mundy said.
The foundation of personal success, he says, lies in the development of individuality and self-confidence. That's why Mundy's teachingmethods stress "getting beyond what looks obvious on the surface, sokids can learn to make intelligent academic decisions about the things that will affect their futures."
Creating an atmosphere that encourages students to do just that is one of the reasons Mundy was picked "outstanding teacher of the year" by Glenelg High School's seniors this year. This is the second year in a row that a senior class hasnamed him as the teacher who most influenced them.
Seniors at each of the county's high schools make their selection every spring.
Senior Trey Miller was in Mundy's political science class two years ago and considers him one of the best teachers he's ever had, largelybecause Mundy prodded him to work hard.
"He's the type of teacherwho doesn't sit back and let people slide by. Nobody slips through the cracks," said Miller -- who admitted he was the type of student who might not have worked up to his potential. "But Mr. Mundy noticed that about me and worked on me until he was satisfied I was doing my best."
Glenelg principal James McGregor has high praise for Mundy: "I've known Jim for three years now, and I think he's an excellent teacher. He gets students to take part, really encourages them to thinkand make decisions on their own. When they leave his classroom, students know their subject matter."
"Political science provides students an opportunity to develop a stream of consciousness," Mundy said."They're able to learn which perceptions about life are useful to them; which matter and which don't. Because, if we're going to influence kids, we'd better influence them to be thinkers, to be leaders instead of followers."
He stresses that "questions need to be asked ofthese students, and they need to have an opportunity to express ideas -- not their parents', teachers' or peer's ideas -- but their own, unique ideas."
At 39, he's taught high school since 1974, when he arrived at Howard High. He took the helm of the teacher's union in 1981, then moved to Glenelg in 1983.
Generally, the Ellicott City resident said, he's not much on awards. But being singled out by his students is "a great honor. These kids have no agendas. This award comes straight from their hearts, and that really means something to me."
To the students who have so honored him, he offers this advice, culled from a piece of paper stuffed in his desk drawer:
"I only wish I knew who said this because it's the best advice I've ever heard:'I cannot believe the only purpose in life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful. To be responsible. To stand for something. To have made some difference that you lived at all.' "
Other Howard County teachers who received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award are:
Jim Wright at Atholton: "There are all kinds ofawards out there, but this is the kind that really counts," says thesocial studies teacher. "The only thing that means more to me is hearing 'I love you, Daddy.' "
Teachers, the 40-year-old Wright says,owe it to their students "to genuinely like kids. It's what preventsus from ever embarrassing them, being insensitive or diminishing their egos."
A Howard County teacher since 1964, Wright is the son of"hard-working, lower middle-class parents" who showed interest in his education and emphasized its importance. He credits his parents forhelping him choose his career path. "Good parents oversee. They don't pressure or threaten. Their love is unconditional." Basically, Wright feels, parents need to remain "inflexibly flexible."
Bruce Smith at Centennial: Smith, a history teacher who has been in the classroom since 1971, says most of his students are ideal.
"Anyone who wants to learn for the sake of knowing, and who isn't afraid to stand up for their values -- regardless of what others think -- has my respect," he says.
Smith, 42, enjoys teaching high school because "students enjoy open debate by this age. History appeals to them more, since they're better able to relate to the concerns and goings-on in their world."
Being able to "see tears that might be brewing under a student's outwardly happy facade is what makes teachers really able to relate to kids," he says. "You can motivate them by making them think; you can relax them by making them laugh." As important as history, math and language, he says, "being open to what's going on inside our students is what enables us to really reach them. We can't afford to lose a single one."