2009 Office of Institutional Education Programs
Juvenile Teacher of the Year

Laura E. Hawkins
Science Teacher, Elkins Mountain School

           Several interesting factors worked together to influence me to become a teacher.  I had not originally chosen teaching as a career option, but instead environmental science because of my love for the outdoors.  Ironically, when I was between jobs I tried my hand at substitute teaching and instantly fell in love with what I was doing.  I realized I could draw from my work in the science field and share these experiences in the classroom.  What better way to share my love of the outdoors than to teach about it?

        Throughout my career substituting I heard about the “good” and the “bad” experiences students had with school and teachers.  This made me reflect on my own education and the highlights and down points involved in it.  Teachers, whether they are labeled as “good” or “bad,” forever impact children’s lives I very vividly remember my high school English teacher: the way she smelled, how she spoke so dramatically with her hands, the fancy handwriting she used when commenting on our papers, and the countless hours of extra time she devoted to her students.  On the other hand, I also can easily recollect my high school chemistry teacher: she rarely got up from her desk, had as little interaction with students as possible, assigned nothing but book work to make us learn chemistry, and left school as soon as the 3:00 bell rang.

       I decided I was going to become one of those teachers that students wouldn’t easily forget and for all the right reasons.  I wanted my students to remember my commitment to them, my contagious energy and enthusiasm, and the love I have for them and my job.  Teachers are definitely role models to their students.  I wanted to break the mold when I became a teacher.  I knew I didn’t fit the stereotypical female teacher (I ride a motorcycle, have boxed in competitions, hunt, and fish) and this led me to the path of institutional education where I teach juvenile males ages 13-17.  The drive to bring something new and unique into the classroom really propelled me to get my education degree.  My mother always thought I was going to be an actress because I loved entertaining.  Well, as a teacher I put on eight different performances a day, and there is always a lesson to be learned from each show. 

       My greatest contributions and accomplishments in education thus far have been connecting with a population of students that have difficulties at home, in school, and with their personal behaviors.  I have been able to teach what some (shame on them) call the “unteachable.”  These kids are my favorite to teach and I call them “the underdogs,” not the other term used above.  My students often have all the chips stacked against them.  They are in legal trouble, have addiction problems, social/emotional issues, learning disabilities, truancy, and have been bounced around the different systems in school and home.  I am proud that I have been a part of them wanting to better themselves through education.

Congratulations Laura!