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Pentagon Ceremony Honors Top Teachers

Gerry Gilmore, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greets the Department of Defense's top teachers for 2010 during a Nov. 17, 2009, Pentagon recognition ceremony. Thirteen teachers who work for the worldwide Department of Defense Education Activity school system were recognized. Gerry Gilmore

WASHINGTON, D.C. - 11.18.2009 The top teachers in the Defense Department's worldwide school system were recognized yesterday by the U.S. military's senior officer at a Pentagon ceremony.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greeted and thanked the Department of Defense Education Activity's Teacher of the Year and District Teachers of the Year award recipients for 2010.

"There is probably no more important profession at this time in our history than teaching," Mullen told the assembled educators.

The annual Teacher of the Year program highlights the significant role that DoDEA teachers play in students' lives and the contributions they make to the quality of life for military families, particularly the stability and consistency they provide during times of deployment and separation. A panel selects the annual Teacher of the Year from among district nominees.

DoDEA's teachers have "been a big part of the glue that is holding us together in an enormously stressful time," said Mullen, noting many military parents are deployed overseas in support of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is important, Mullen said, for military parents "to know that their kids are in good schools and [are] being well taught."

Susan S. Morris, nominated by the Heidelberg District in Germany, is the 2010 DoDEA Teacher of the Year.

District Teachers of the Year also honored at the ceremony include:

  • Gretchen Wall, Bavaria District, Germany;
  • Pam Koon, Georgia/Alabama District;
  • Juana Aguon, Guam District;
  • Margaret Ann Bruce, Isles District, England;
  • Cleo Strazdas, Kaiserslautern District, Germany;
  • Brenda Schultz-von-Hawker, Kentucky District;
  • Clover Stephenson, Korea District;
  • Suzanne Sperl, Mediterranean District;
  • Lynn Magalong Lowe, New York/Virginia/Puerto Rico District;
  • Darla Williamitis, North Carolina District;
  • Seth Renquist, Okinawa District, Japan; and
  • Mitch Finley, South Carolina/Fort Stewart District.

"It is just the ultimate milestone of my career to represent the men and women of the military and their children and all the teachers that we have in DoDEA," Morris said. She teaches social studies to 7th and 8th graders in Heidelberg, Germany.

Teaching "is a personal calling," Morris said, and good teachers build positive relationships with students and their families.

"Get to know your kids and develop a great relationship with them," she said. "From that, you invest in the families, and you find out what their needs are."

Aguon teaches algebra and geometry at Guam High School.

"I really shouldn't be self-congratulatory" about being recognized as a district-level DoDEA Teacher of the Year, she said, noting her honor is "all about" the teaching profession.

"We all have a responsibility to our kids; especially to our military kids," she said.

Tommy T. Thomas, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, was on hand to congratulate the department's top teachers.

"These teachers represent the highest quality of educators that we have in this country," said Thomas, noting that DoDEA's Teacher of the Year recipient goes on to compete in the National Teacher of the Year competition. President Barack Obama is slated to announce the winner in April.

"Our Department of Defense teachers have one of the highest pass rates of students in the country and that's on a global scale," Thomas said. "It is important to recognize the fact that they are teaching and building American citizens through education."

More than 85,000 students, ranging from pre-kindergarten through grade 12, began this school year at 192 DoDEA schools worldwide. About 8,700 teachers work at DoDEA schools located stateside and in 12 foreign countries.

"We understand that as we teach them, both abroad and stateside, it is for the well-being of the country," Thomas said. "And that is our future."

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