At the head of the class at Oakland Mills Physics teacher Siskind is Educator of the Year

April 21, 1996|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Howard County's outstanding educator earned the honor because he sees teens as much more than faces in a classroom.

Robert A. Siskind, a 47-year-old physics teacher at Oakland Mills High School, was named Educator of the Year on Thursday before about 530 people at Community Awards Night at Turf Valley Resort & Conference Center in Ellicott City.

This summer, he'll say goodbye to Oakland Mills High to head the science department at Long Reach High School, slated to open in August. "I've been here 15 years. If I stay here much longer, I'm going to get stale. I want to do something new and exciting. I want to go out with a flourish," Mr. Siskind said.

Of the 49 educators nominated for last week's ceremony, the selections committee honored Mr. Siskind for achievements inside and outside the classroom.

He was cited for developing the county curricula in physics and chemistry, designing course work that is demanding, and obtaining lab equipment and materials for his students.

Students from his science classes are quick to give testimonials. "I was kind of scared of physics, but Mr. Siskind made it a lot easier than I thought it would be," said junior Yang Wang.

Senior Brian Howard said: "He'll try to make everything interesting. He knows just about everything there is to know about physics."

But Mr. Siskind also helps students who don't attend his classes -- students who have weightier problems than knowing Newton's universal law of gravity.

He's helped the Student Support Team (SST) since 1988 and the Peer Leadership of Oakland Mills (PLOOM) since 1990.

SST intervenes when students show signs of substance abuse and suggests seeking professional counseling.

Problems may return after therapy when students come back to school and do not have a peer group to keep them sober.

This is where SST helps out, providing a confidential support group. Mr. Siskind keeps their secret.

"When you see them in the hallways, you say hi. But it's a special hi. They feel like they are not alone," Mr. Siskind said.

Barbara J. Jewett, science department chairwoman at Oakland Mills High, said she nominated Mr. Siskind for the award because he brings such concern for students to his job.

"It's not unusual for him to drive a kid to [Alcoholics Anonymous] on Friday nights," she said.

PLOOM is a group of upperclassmen, committed to living a drug-free life, who teach freshmen how to deal with peer pressure in high school. Freshmen receive refusal and decision-making training.

Mr. Siskind estimates that SST and PLOOM take five to six hours of work per week, but said that spending time in such extracurricular activities helps him to build rapport with students, making him a better teacher.

"That makes what you're doing in the classroom all the easier. You see them differently. They see you differently," he said.

Mr. Siskind was born in Baltimore and raised in Takoma Park. He graduated from Montgomery Blair High School and earned a biology degree from the University of Maryland College Park in 1970. He completed a master's degree in reading and learning disabilities at Johns Hopkins University in 1977.

He started teaching biology in 1971 at Patapsco Middle School and left in July 1972 to join Daly and Edwards Scientific Equipment Inc. as a sales representative.

But he missed teaching and returned to Howard County's public schools six months later, working at Howard High School, Patapsco Middle and then Oakland Mills High, where he has worked since 1980.

He lives in the Beaverbrook section of Columbia's Wilde Lake village with his wife of 27 years, Barbara, and daughters Leah and Robin.

"Being a good teacher, a good parent and a good husband -- I find they occupy all my time," he said.

Though honored by last week's award, Mr. Siskind experiences a greater plaudit every day in the classroom.

"Real teachers know teaching is its own reward," he said.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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