Teaching kids history is her story of inspiration

Dressel named top educator in county's schools

May 20, 2006|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

Throughout her life, every time Michelle Dressel learned something, she wanted to share it.

Her parents were the earliest beneficiaries of that inclination. And in college, the social sciences major wore out her friends telling, as she put it, "the story that's created around history."

To find new audiences for her urge to impart knowledge, Dressel decided to become an educator.

Yesterday, Baltimore County school officials honored the eighth-grade social studies teacher and Loch Raven Academy social studies department chairwoman as their Teacher of the Year.

"She is our Miss America," Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said during an awards ceremony at school system headquarters before an audience of teachers, school district officials and family members of the honorees. "When students ask her why they need to learn history, her answer is, `Because you're in it.'"

The superintendent recognized Dressel for her efforts to spark girls' interest in information technology careers, her multicultural approach to leading her classroom and her work in helping to launch a new statewide African-American history curriculum.

Hairston also commended two finalists for the countywide teaching award, Margaret Paul, a biology and environmental sciences instructor at Towson High School, and Debra Pueschel, a kindergarten teacher at Joppa View Elementary School.

As part of her award, Dressel, 36, received $1,000 from Comcast toward the purchase of a laptop computer, as well as the use of a new car for a year from the Baltimore Area Toyota Dealers.

She accepted a more unusual gift from her predecessor. In teary-eyed remarks about "breathless moments" she experienced in a year of activities as the county's top educator, New Town High School instructor Jodi Grosser-Gonzalez gave Dressel a box of plastic sandwich bags "to help with the hyperventilation" and a disposable camera to document "all your nondisposable moments."

County school officials will forward Dressel's nomination for consideration in Maryland's Teacher of the Year contest.

The youngest of five children, Dressel grew up in Baltimore County. She attended Timonium Elementary and Ridgely Middle before graduating in 1987 from Dulaney High School.

"We used to call her our little jockette because she was always very active in sports, and she always loved learning," said Jean Allen, Dressel's mother. "We are so proud of her, I cannot begin to tell you."

After a year at George Mason University, two years at Essex Community College and three years at Towson University, Dressel graduated with a bachelor's degree in social sciences.

She taught sixth-grade social studies, math and wellness at Deer Park Middle Magnet School before joining the faculty of the Loch Raven Academy middle school in 1997.

Hannah Ashenafi, 14, said she is typically not interested in social studies. But of all the classes she has this year at Loch Raven Academy, she said, she gets the most out of Dressel's American history course.

"She's a great teacher. I love being in her class," the teenager said. "She does all kinds of fun activities. We still learn all the information, but it's a little more hands-on."

During a recent lesson about the work force of Colonial America, Dressel appointed a few children to play the part of employers while the rest of the class pretended to interview for jobs that might have been available in the 1700s.

In accepting her award, Dressel characterized her students as "my inspiration, my encouragement and my biggest fans."

Of learning that she had been selected as the county's teacher of the year, she said, "I was shocked and amazed that I could receive an award for doing what inspires and motivates me each and every day."

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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