English teacher earns state award, praise for going 'above and beyond'

December 06, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Teachers -- especially new ones -- don't expect their students in tears on the first day of school.

But that's what happened to Howard High School English teacher Linda Storey, recently honored as Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Council of Teachers of English, whose first assignment was in Brighton, Mass., in 1974.

That assignment involved taking the place of a popular and talented, but troubled, teacher who had committed suicide days before.

The students "started crying because they had waited for three years to have this teacher," Ms. Storey said. "And to have students on your first day crying is not good."

Her predecessor had been regarded as a brilliant teacher with a knack of putting forth questions that forced her pupils to think and to reflect on the meaning of the story.

"No one wanted to step into her shoes," Ms. Storey said. "I felt I had these tremendous shoes to fill. I thought it was very strange. But just to see the profound effect she had on so many people really touched me."

Ms. Storey, who had never met the English teacher she replaced, has used that teacher's legacy -- her piles of dittoes and work sheets -- in her own teaching.

In the years since, she has forged a reputation as a creative and involved educator who works closely with students and earns their loyalty.

In so doing, she becomes the third Howard County teacher in a row to win the annual state English teachers award. Sherry Conklin of Hammond High School and Cheri Jefferson of Atholton High School were her predecessors.

Ms. Storey's colleagues and students praise her as dedicated, energetic and unselfish.

"She's always willing to help, to go above and beyond," said Linda Wise, a guidance counselor who nominated her for the award. "She loves to teach and it shows. And her kids know it.

"What she enjoys doing most is writing," Ms. Wise said. "She is very inspiring to students. She has a way of conveying the word."

Dartmouth College student Camille Powell, who graduated from Howard last year, said Ms. Storey cares about her students to the degree few others do.

Miss Powell had barely known Ms. Storey her junior year in high school when she asked the teacher for help writing an essay for an exchange program.

Ms. Storey not only gave her good tips but also gave Miss Powell her home phone number and took time to check up on her the night before the essay was due.

"She actually called me up to check how I was doing, which was moral support," Miss Powell, 18, said in a telephone interview from her dorm room.

"She was definitely the best teacher I've had," Miss Powell said. "Each paper I got back was filled with comments about my style, my analysis. That really helped."

In college, Ms. Storey began as a pre-med major but switched after she took some English courses at New York University.

"The more I took them, the more I realized that, with my personality, it was a natural subject for me," Ms. Storey said. "I also had some excellent instructors, and I thought this was where I could make a dent in the world."

At Howard, where Ms. Storey has worked since 1984, she is the head of the English department and is active in coordinating the school's new four-period day. She teaches gifted and talented classes as well as drama.

"We really believe students should become writers for a lifetime," she said. "Once in a while, we sort of get astray in education. But now, there's definitely a re-emphasis on writing."

Her goal is to give students the basic foundation and skills they need to communicate with others.

"I think we're coming to understand that communication in the workplace is weakening," she said. "We have to capture those skills."

The hardest part about being a teacher is what Ms. Storey calls the "negativity you feel in different ways."

"Teaching is very stressful because you are watched by so many people every day," she said. "To maintain an energetic, positive image for your students is crucial. After 21 years, it's tough."

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