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Williamsport teacher receives state honors

June 20, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

WILLIAMSPORT - A Williamsport High School teacher has got learning down to a science.

Biology.

"I want the kids to realize that I like them and I like science," Pamela Johnston said. "If I can get students to buy into science and like it ... teach them something that they can take with them, ... they can make this a better world."

The Maryland Association of Biology Teachers named Johnston, 54, the state's Outstanding Biology Teacher of the Year.

She received her award at a surprise ceremonyWednesday afternoon at Williamsport High School, where she has worked for 25 years.

A media storeroom served as the hiding place for members of the selection committee and Johnston's family until the teacher was lured to the library under the guise of a faculty luncheon.

A smile eclipsed Johnston's face when Lori Stiles, chairwoman of the selection committee, led the covert group from the adjoining room.

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Faculty members hooted and Johnston's grandchildren ran to her with roses as Stiles announced the true reason for the gathering.

"Pamela Johnston was an absolute shoo-in for this award," Stiles said.

For 37 years, the National Association of Biology Teachers has used the award to identify outstanding biology teachers.

Selection criteria include teaching quality, knowledge of subject matter, strategies for teaching students of all ability ranges, community involvement in relation to classroom activities and attendance at science-oriented conferences.

Based upon these criteria, Johnston was chosen from a statewide pool of 13 applicants, Stiles said.

In Maryland, the selection committee also visits the classroom to observe the teacher in action and to talk to students, Stiles said.

She said the selection committee watched Johnston teach a C-level biology class.

"The room was beaming with learning, was attractive and loaded with science," Stiles said.

She said some student comments included, "She's like a mom," and "This is the class I like the best."

Such student feedback epitomizes the reason Johnston said she loves to teach.

"I want to be a good role model and influence on the kids I come in contact with," she said.

Her enthusiasm for biology is apparent.

The lifelong stray animal collector said she has always loved the outdoors, looking through microscopes and building terrariums.

"I think that everything that God made is so wonderful," Johnston said.

A strong advocate of hands-on learning, Johnston said she keeps kids interested in biology by planning "enjoyable and memorable activities."

Williamsport's natural resources offer a fertile learning ground for biology students, she said.

The Potomac River provides water study and canoeing opportunities - activities that Johnston said are among her students' favorites.

The school itself promotes learning with a "pleasant faculty and supportive atmosphere," Johnston said.

Johnston said she began her career as a student teacher at Williamsport High, and plans to stay at the school until she retires.

In addition to the plaque she received Wednesday, Johnston will be "showered with science gifts" and be recognized with winners from other states at a national conference in Fort Worth, Texas, in October, Stiles said.

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