Modesty is a policy of the `best'


Award: Maryland's Teacher of the Year says the recognition is really an honor for his colleagues and students.

October 09, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE OTHER night, Darren Ray Hornbeck won the Oscar of Maryland public education.

The sociology teacher at Linganore High School in Frederick County was named Teacher of the Year. He walked away from the gala at Martin's West with a $5,000 cash prize, $1,000 to attend a professional seminar of his choice, a laptop computer, a year's free use of a 2002 Lincoln LS, a trip to the White House and a chance to become National Teacher of the Year.

It's all a bit daunting to Hornbeck, who had to be talked into entering the contest and who harbors a suspicion that there are lots of teachers as talented as he.

"This is really a celebration of what my colleagues do, and it's a victory for my students," said Hornbeck, 38. "There are so many talented people here, and what can I say about the students? I didn't work that hard in high school."

I've noticed that such modesty is typical of teachers of the year. None has ever claimed to be the "best" instructor in Maryland. As hard as those who conduct the contest work to choose a talented winner - all contestants must submit portfolios of their work and finalists undergo grueling interviews by a 12-member panel - everyone knows that finding a single "best" among 50,000 Maryland teachers is next to impossible.

So the annual contest is designed to recognize the contributions of teachers generally. Recent teachers of the year such as Hornbeck, Linda Eberhart of Baltimore City and Linda Storey of Howard County seem content to share the honors with their colleagues near and far.

And it's a profession that needs recognition. Underpaid and underpraised, most teachers work alone and seldom hear encouragement for their work.

Maryland's newest teacher of the year grew up in a coal mining town in West Virginia. He has been at Linganore since his graduation from West Virginia Wesleyan College nearly 15 years ago. This year, he teaches sociology to 95 students in three 90-minute classes.

"Sociology is a wonderful subject because it examines how the world works," said Hornbeck. "Most of my students are desperate to find out. Today's lesson happens to be on the economic distribution of wealth. Most courses in high school aren't going to teach that."

Hornbeck - no relation to former Maryland state schools Superintendent David Hornbeck - finds teaching a challenge in rapidly suburbanizing Frederick County. "We were studying poverty last year, and a couple of my students had never heard of an eviction. It's not their fault. It's just never been a part of their lives," he said.

I asked Hornbeck if his campaign had a theme. "I guess it's that education has to be seen as a business model," he said. "You don't get a payoff if you don't make an investment, and money does make a difference. That's what the Thornton Commission found, and it was right."

Hornbeck said he'll stay in the classroom. If he does, he'll be an exception. Darla Strouse, who runs the Teacher of the Year program for the State Department of Education, said almost all of the past winners have left the classroom. Some are mentoring less experienced teachers, some are in administration, a few are teaching in colleges and universities.

But Hornbeck says he loves the job. "Every year I ask myself if this is the year I'll burn out, but it never seems to happen," he said. "On most days I go home with a real sense of accomplishment. Who could ask for more?"

Studies on credit cards, weight gain in college

A study by Nellie Mae, a student loan provider, found the typical student from a four-year, private college graduates with $2,748 in credit-card debt and has three cards. Another study (perhaps related?) reported in Newsweek's annual college issue found that freshmen gain weight: 5.4 pounds for men and 4.5 pounds for women. Someone should tell them that beer is not a major food group.

Jock schools score well on tests, too, data show

Jock schools aren't necessarily intellectual wastelands.

Test data analyzed by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution don't support the idea that dominance in sports diminishes a school's academic achievement. Reading and math test scores from those schools were slightly above average but statistically indistinguishable from the performance of schools with poor sports records.

The report also found that powerhouse high schools generally are huge, with more than twice as many students as the average high school. And more than half of the nation's dominant basketball teams represent urban high schools, while football and baseball are dominated by suburban schools.

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