“There’s no hope,” everyone said, looking at the child in distress. Deaf and blind Hellen Keller was dismissed as hopeless by everyone including her parents; however, local school teacher Anne Sullivan thought differently. She took up the challenge of tutoring the young and unruly child, and with her guidance, Keller proceeded to become one of the world’s most famous writers and influencers.
Teachers hold a special place in shaping the way a student looks at the world and responds to different adversities. They are the sculptors behind the many success stories we hear in our daily lives about students reaching their full potential and becoming productive members of our society. In our community of Frisco, we have no shortage of exceptionally-skilled and compassionate teachers. This year, the award for Teacher of The Year belongs to Chris Ham of Liberty High School and Melanie Rutter from Vaughn Elementary School. These teachers have demonstrated the unique ability to find innate talent in their students and cultivate curiosity in their classrooms and outside.
While being well versed in their subject is an essential trait for teachers to have, the way these two teachers connect and bond with their students is what makes them unparalleled. “Every student is different and they learn differently. It is my goal to address each student’s learning needs” says Chris Ham. High school students flourish under teachers who tailor a perfect learning method that works for them, and when they are free to learn in the way they learn best, they succeed academically and become well-rounded students. Frisco is renowned for its competitive academic programs and advanced level curriculum, and teachers like Chris Ham make the experience more hands on, understandable and solvable. It is fundamental students be aware of their capabilities and shortcomings as well, so they know where they stand in terms of progress. “I believe being honest with the students helps connect with the students,” Mr. Ham says, in regards to alerting students of their target areas and strong suits.
While high school students are looking for teachers who navigate them through the tricky waters of advanced placement courses and college applications, elementary students are just beginning to blossom into smart, innovative students. Melanie Rutter has expertly encouraged her young students to think out of the box and be creative, going beyond the basics. “The most fulfilling thing about being a teacher is watching students learn they are more capable than what they think they are.” she says. All her colleagues agree she does an exceptional job of showing her pupils what they are capable of. Students in elementary school are just beginning to discover their potential and they need a capable teacher like her to unleash their true potential. Here in Frisco, the mission is to know each child personally and make sure everyone’s dreams and aspirations are discovered, and this is what our teachers aspire and succeed at. School is an institution where many people make unforgettable memories with their friends and educators. Many students will agree teachers contribute immensely to these memories, and students of Mr. Ham and Ms. Rutter agree they have greatly contributed to their experience at their schools. “You appreciate a student as a whole person not just academically. I find out about their hopes and dreams for the year and their future.” Melanie Rutter says, when asked how she manages to connect so personally with her students.
It is important to remember teachers are learners as well. The relationship between students and teachers isn’t one way, where the teacher is teaching her pupils worldly skills, but instead teachers learn much from their students well, as both Mr. Ham and Ms. Rutter agreed. Students teach their educators about how to deal with anxiety and how to deal with pressure and come out on top of stressful situations. Chris Ham and his students say, “we end up working together as a team to learn together.” According to both teachers, this is another fulfilling aspect of teaching: learning together and forging a bond that way. Frisco is always on top of all the newest innovative teaching methods and technology and this assists our instructors in bringing out the real talent in the students. New technology such as personal computers and such makes it easier for teachers to get through to students.
Not limiting themselves to being professional tutors, both teachers always check on their student’s wellbeing and mental health, and that’s what makes them so approachable when their students need someone to talk to. A common lesson we see all around us is there is always a cause for a problem. If some students are not able to perform at their best level, Ms. Rutter has a one-on-one with the student to see if she can help with any hurdles her students may be facing.
“Life outside the classroom has a way of affecting how the student thinks, behaves and learns in the classroom.” says Ms. Rutter, when it comes to helping out students in their struggles out of school. This compassionate attitude is what pushes students to be able to confide in their mentors about problems other than academics and get advice on their adversities. Mr. Ham says, “I encourage students to try different things outside of our classroom.” This helps them explore their interests and strengths to find their perfect future career, an essential part of the high school journey. FISD has incorporated social-emotional learning in the curriculum, which means teachers ensure students flourish not only academically but also keep their social and mental health up, as Mr. Ham and Ms. Rutter have done admirably.
It’s always such a drag to finish repetitive homework and classwork and swot textbook information, and although it is incredibly important to progress academically during school the Teacher of the Year award winners are especially known for being able to make their lessons interactive and incite a desire to learn among students. From using podcasts, videos and hopping aboard the latest trends among teenagers, these teachers are known to make their lessons enjoyable while also letting students unearth their own learning targets, and assets. Both teachers are proud sponsors of clubs such as sports clubs, video games, PTA, fundraising and additional tutoring sessions with their kids.
Mr. Ham even sponsors an Anti-social social club! The best teachers are the ones that realize every person has unique capabilities and they emerge in different ways. Mr. Ham and Ms. Rutter are well-versed with spotting these flairs, and they say that “some students know their interests and some have not discovered them yet” and they can discover their talents when teachers “provide opportunities to explore.” Every student is different and each one of them carries a different talent with them. Most students in high school have sky high expectations and apprehensions when it comes to college applications, and choosing their respective paths and careers. According to Mr. Ham, keeping your options open, and having an open mind when choosing your major will help with finding your dream career. For students entering secondary school, it is very crucial that they enjoy their time as children and seize every opportunity that comes their way, as Ms. Rutter imparts to her students as advice for the future. Our amazing teachers Mr. Ham and Ms. Rutter are leading their students on the right path towards achieving their aspirations and fulfilling their dreams.
Besides teaching their students how to deal with academic or external pressures, teachers do form friendships with their students, talking to them about day-to-day activities becomes more comfortable. Mr. Ham and Ms. Rutter see themselves primarily as companions of the students, watching them learn, grow, and discover themselves, is heartwarming for them and makes their hard work and time worth the while. Both of the teachers have been recognized for instilling a growth mindset into their students, which prompts them to have faith in themselves, and understand that yes, they can do it. Many young students today lack self-confidence and the enthusiasm to learn, and Ms. Rutter and Mr. Ham do their best to change that attitude in students and develop an atmosphere where mistakes are accepted as part of the journey to success. Many students struggle with feelings of failure when they don’t perform well on a test or an assignment. Mr. Ham encourages students to learn from their previous missteps, and he feels personally accomplished when he aids his students in improving their scores and furthering their successes as students as a whole. Students appreciate it when their mentors are truthful with them, and not feed them a sense of false accomplishment. Mr. Ham and Ms. Rutter are exceptionally skilled in strengthening the emotional strength of their students so that they respond well to criticism and positively react to any suggestions for improvement.
As Anne Sullivan taught her wild pupil Hellen Keller to grow into an accomplished writer, our Teacher of the Year award winners Melanie Rutter of Vaughan Elementary and Chris Ham of Liberty High School have enriched their students’ experiences in the classroom and enjoyed watching their pupils grow into the best versions of themselves possible. This is what makes them unique and well-deserving of the award, and the district of Frisco fully appreciates their unwavering faith and hard work towards their students.
As everyone’s eyes looked at Hellen Keller patronizingly and finally with defeat, Anne Sullivan’s eyes stayed fixed on the child. Why should she have to be considered hopeless just because she could not see nor hear? That was when the journey began for the unruly two-year-old to become one of the world’s most famous writers and influencers, all while her teacher and mentor held her hand and guided her up to success.
Rasmitha Edupuganti is a Frisco high school student with a passion for discovery and writing.