It isn’t often that a career change destines you for greatness, but such was the case for Gemma German as she redirected life from nursing to Cochise County teacher of the year during a ceremony held at Thunder Mountain Activity Center on Fort Huachuca Army Base.
The ceremony recognized teachers from all over Cochise County. The three categories recognized were elementary, middle school and high school, with an overall winner selected from the three category winners.
German was the second winner from the Douglas Unified School District on the evening. After changing her career path from the medical profession, German has found a home. She spent the last five years at Paul Huber Middle School in the same classroom, relating to the students and feels that is one of the only way to be effective when teaching.
“I feel like I am in a dream, I feel like I just won a beauty pageant to the extreme,” German said. “We come from Douglas and there are issues, but if you just go everyday and know that you are going to laugh your heart out, it makes it easier to go to work.”
Nominees had to have at least one full year of teaching under their belt to be considered for an award. The teacher of the year process selects teachers who are representative of the finest teachers in Cochise County and Arizona, provides an opportunity for educators to reflect on their practice and enables outstanding recognition for the chosen teachers and their respective schools which serves to inspire others according to the Cochise County School Superintendent office.
The first winner of the evening was Noemi Escalante, a fourth grade teacher from Clawson Elementary within the Douglas Unified School District. A seventh year teacher, Escalante came from a background a lot of kids have, as an English as a second language student. She shares her experiences growing up with a language barrier with her students and believes that she has more tools than most to be able to identify and relate to issues concerning kids from the same backgrounds.
“When I came to Arizona it was English, English, English and I had a great teacher that just pushed me,” Escalante said. “Mr. Gonzalez, he made the difference. He was the one that used to tell me you can do this and you’re gonna help students the way that I help you.”
Jen Score came to the ceremony on a different path. Score came from a long lineage of educators to include her mom, grandmother and great grandmother. She has been in education for over thirty years, however, it wasn’t until she realized that spreading her knowledge and helping everyone around her get better that she started to see the fruits of her labor.
“I think the thing that got me was that I went to all the elementary schools and I started giving art to them that was based on math,” Score said. “They could use it in the classroom because it matched the state curriculum…I had to learn all of those things to get to this point… I had so many people give me great lesson plans and I just took the great lesson plans and gave them to other teachers.”
One theme of the evening, especially from the winners themselves, was the praise they had for all the teachers within the county. This was highlighted by Cochise County Schools Superintendent Jacqui Clay who praised all in attendance for their hard work and dedication towards making the community a better place.
“This event shows the community what our teachers do,” Clay said. “Teachers, they don’t talk about themselves. They’re just too busy. It’s a two-fold thing, it helps the community realize what they do, but then it gives the teacher the added value and the validation that anybody needs who is working these long hours and doing the things that they do.”
Below is a list of the other nominees from Friday’s ceremony:
Cheryl Salcido-Engols – Center for Academic Success Charter School
Patty Fuller – Tombstone Unified school District
Brenda Kilmurray – Sierra Vista Unified School District
Suzi Szymeczek – Fort Huachuca Accommodation School District
Amanda White – Palominas Elementary School District
Dora Zamora – McNeal Elementary School District
Kambrah Allsup – Willcox Unified School District
Kathy Davidson – St. David Unified School District
Holly Faccio – Pearce Elementary School District
Annie Ledbetter – Bisbee Unified School District
Jenny McDonald – Benson Unified School District
Diane Moore – Sierra Vista Unified School District
Casey Lewis – San Simon Unified School District
Cherylee “Cheri” McCorkle – Sierra Vista Unified School District
Lori Merrill – Cochise Technology School District
Mitchell Nelson – Douglas Unified School District
Saul Bookman is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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