Joshua Paul Parker, English/language arts teacher at Windsor… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
Joshua Paul Parker readily admits he makes his language arts students at Windsor Mill Middle School work hard.
"Proficiency is not enough," he said. "They have to shoot for perfection. There is strength in striving."
That attitude embodies Baltimore County's aspirations for its more than 100,000 students and led to Parker's choice as the teacher of the year Monday during the county's 24th annual celebration of its teaching talent.
"He lives and breathes the philosophy of our blueprint for progress," said Joe A. Hairston, superintendent of county schools.
In accepting the award, Parker, 28, who began teaching six years ago, expressed his gratitude for the privilege of "living and moving in the world of education."
The honor came with numerous prizes including a notebook computer, yearlong passes to sites like the National Aquarium, and a trip to a professional development conference anywhere in the U.S. But last year's honoree Ralene Jacobson said the gift he might appreciate most is the reserved parking spot that will be marked "teacher of the year" at his school.
The selection committee was so impressed with the 40 teachers, all nominated by their administrators, that they expanded the traditional finalist list from five to seven, who included elementary, middle and high school teachers in language, the arts, science and physical education.
Debbie Phelps, Windsor Mill Middle principal, nominated Parker, whom she called a great role model.
"He has our students carrying books around and reading," she said. "He is always there, after school, at the games and dances. He is the kind of teacher we need in every school house, because he treats it like his second home and family."
Parker began his career at Dundalk Middle School, rising at 5 a.m. to catch two transit buses from his home in the city to his first classroom. Now, he owns a car and lives near his job in Randallstown with his wife, Tiffany, and their two young children. A graduate of Towson University, he earned a master's degree in educational leadership from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
Joyce and Dennis Parker were the first to jump to their feet when Hairston named their son the winner in the ceremony on the Greenwood campus in Towson.
"I told him to substitute teach to see how he liked teaching," said Joyce Parker, a teacher in Prince George's County schools. "It was not long before he was saying he loved it."
In the classroom, Parker insists his students speak, read and write well, all of which, he assures them, are "life skills."
"As an instructor, I tell my students about the lifelong importance of literacy," he said. "They have a voice worth listening to and a life worth writing about. I tell them they have options and that literacy changes lives."