It's all French to them

Students proud of Williamsport educator who is finalist for Maryland Teacher of the Year

Students proud of Williamsport educator who is finalist for Maryland Teacher of the Year

August 23, 2005|by KAREN HANNA


Students who stop by her door don't have to speak French to understand Madame Moore's impassioned language for education.

A fluency of compliments is part of the exchange.

"You're great. You rock. You can do it."

Paula Moore, who is starting her 12th year as a French teacher at Williamsport High School, is one of seven finalists for Maryland Teacher of the Year. The Maryland State Department of Education will announce its winner Oct. 7.

Washington County Public Schools resume classes Wednesday, and students navigated the halls Monday as part of an orientation for freshmen.

Moore, who grew up without a father, was in high school when she met the teacher who changed her life. Walter Straiton, who taught orchestra at Williamsport (Pa.) Area High School, encouraged her both as a violinist and as a person, she said.


"He was the one person that I knew would be there every single day for me," Moore said.

Straiton performed during Moore's wedding, and the two maintain contact.

"He was my quiet angel," Moore said.

According to Moore, she and a cousin grew up next door to one another in a mobile home park. She graduated high school; he dropped out after ninth grade.

Moore credits her mother with pushing her to succeed in school and supporting her violin lessons, despite working long hours as a forklift driver.

"I remember at one point calling my baby sitter 'Mom' because I spent more time with my baby sitter than my mom," Moore said. "And, I didn't really understand that, but it was because she loved me so much."

During a training session about the effect of poverty on students and schools, Moore said she saw herself, and she cried.

"It hit a soft spot in my heart," said Moore, who plans to use her platform as a state finalist to push for more resources for poor students.

Students in poverty often lack the resources and experiences to succeed in school, Moore said.

Echoes of her past reverberate through Moore's teaching philosophies, and she said she believes she must win students' confidence and trust before any other lessons will sink in.

"She's our favorite teacher," said sophomore Alicia Domsky, 14, after noticing a mobile she made still hanging near the doorway of Moore's room.

According to Domsky and her best friend, sophomore Samie Sines, also 14, Moore's classes combine conversations, hands-on projects, games and songs. Domsky said she was excited Moore still displayed her mobile.

"I kept it all year 'round because I really think it was the best around, and (students) need to see you rock, and they, too, can rock," Moore told Domsky.

She repeated first names as she smiled and greeted students and parents seated in a horseshoe arrangement of desks in her room during orientation.

Students often share their deepest secrets with her, Moore said during an interview. Homosexual students have come out to her, and victims of rape have confided their fears.

From French 1 when they first learn to say "bonjour," through navigating city streets in France on class trips, students' achievements still thrill Moore, she said. Many have survived heartaches greater than most would imagine, Moore said.

Moore said one of her students juggled several jobs last year to support herself. The girl also made high marks in advanced-placement French and landed a full scholarship to Hagerstown Community College, Moore said

Just as Straiton taught, Moore always encouraged her.

"I would look at her, and I would always keep her in a special place in my heart, and I would always tell her, 'You can do it.'"

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