2014 Top Teachers
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Amy D. Insley
School: York High School, Yorktown
Years as an educator: 15
Grades and subjects taught: Elementary music; English 9–12; drama 9–12; adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and Christopher Newport University
Special recognitions/awards: Michael Sullivan Distinguished Service Award, 2013, York High School; Top Teacher, Coastal Virginia Magazine, 2014
Why did you choose teaching as a career? As a theater professional, teaching workshops was part of my job. The energy and excitement that came from sharing my love for the theater in an educational setting was unparalleled—I had to become a teacher!
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Making a difference for a student, no matter how big or small.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Each student is different—it’s up to us as educators to meet them where they are and adjust our approach so that it gets through in the way most needed by the individual.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? The skills they have learned in my theatre classes are useful far beyond those walls. The confidence, public speaking, and critical thinking learned over the year can accompany them into other classes, careers, and life.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? This year we produced our first annual cabaret night open to all. It was designed to include the special needs population in all ways—I’ve found that this population of folks is underserved when it comes to arts exposure and participation, and one of the reasons I’m so passionate about arts education is that it can be such a haven for all types of people. It was a beautiful evening, and we were able to reach out to members of the community who do not usually get to do or see theater. It was a night of growth and transformation for everyone, including me.
From her nomination: “Ms. Insley is the best teacher I have ever had. I was a pretty shy kid entering high school, but she saw talent and promise in me from the start. She really changed my life and my future. I now work as a professional actor and performer. Her guidance, support and love shaped me into the man I am today. I will forever be grateful, and her biggest fan.” —Tony Rodriguez, student
School: Western Branch Middle, Chesapeake
Years as an educator: 23
Grades and subjects taught: Eighth-grade English
Special recognitions/awards: Nominated for the Sallie Mae first-year teacher award, 1992–1993; Teacher of the Year at Crestwood Middle, 1998–1999; recognized in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, 2000; and Reading Teacher of the Year, 2006, at Crestwood Middle.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I come from a family of teachers and couldn’t imagine doing anything else—it’s who I am.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? I love being able to help people, and I especially love being able to help kids understand and master a new concept or skill. Learning is something that no one can ever take away, so I believe that what I do to help students learn each day really does matter. It also means a lot to me that my classroom remains a safe place where all students feel respected, appreciated and supported as learners.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? I’ve learned time and again that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I’ve seen the difference it makes in students’ lives and attitudes about themselves and about learning when they know a teacher cares.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? A lot! I want them to know that they have the tools and the practice it takes to be successful writers and readers and that they know how to speak and write correctly in every situation—job interviews, college applications, resumes, etc. I also want them to know how much I care about them.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? There are powerful lessons I’ve had the privilege of leading on the Holocaust through outstanding works such as Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. I am proud of being one of our school’s sponsors of the National Junior Honor Society and being a part of the service projects completed by those students. And I am proud of the collegiality and team mindset shown by the faculty at my school.
From her nomination: “Several students have commented that she is their favorite teacher because she truly cares about them as people, not just as students. Every child deserves to have a teacher like Mrs. Denbow at least once in their lifetime.” —Kambar Khoshaba, colleague
Camilla C. Walck
School: Princess Anne High School, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: 20
Grades and subjects taught: International Baccalaureate higher-level biology, 11th and 12th grade; earth science; environmental science; biology; pre-IB biology; adjunct professor at Tidewater Community College
Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of the Year, PAHS, and Citywide Finalist Teacher of the Year, 2003; Radio Shack National Excellence in Teaching Award, 2004; Society of High School Scholars Award, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2011–2014; National Award Winner, Christopher Columbus Foundation Life Science Teacher Award, 2012; Claes Nobel Top Ten Educator of the Year, 2014; Top Ten Finalist, Shell National Science Teacher of the Year, 2014
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I truly love the process of learning, and I love working with kids. Also, biology is amazing.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Working with students who inspire me every day to be the best that I can. The energy level and excitement found in a child’s face is priceless.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Not to take myself too seriously and to live each day. I have learned the importance of allowing my students the freedom to express themselves and learn from their mistakes. Mistakes can teach you more than you can learn from always having the right answer.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want to instill in my students a love of science as well as an appreciation for all life has to offer. I want my students to leave my classroom knowing I love them and the world is full of opportunities that are only limited by their desire to discover them. I want my students to value the importance of community service as they discover the joy of helping others.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? In one of my favorite lessons, I dress up as Einstein and teach my students about Einstein’s life—they in turn teach ‘Einstein’ about all the great discoveries since his death.
From her nomination: “My son was a student of Dr. Walck’s and is now an honors student at James Madison University in the Department of Science and Engineering. Dr. Walck’s teaching style encourages and promotes creative freedom and inventive minds—she gives students the tools they need to be world-class analytical critical thinkers, global achievers, and amazing people.
She knows what her students need to know and helps them to learn and yearn to know more. In Dr. Walck’s class, the opportunities for life become endless.”
—Janet Carter, parent