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'Normal person' helps students find answers

Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris

April 29, 2007|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The 2007 West Virginia Teacher of the Year said she did not have a good experience as a student.

"I wanted to become the teacher I never had," said Sarah Morris, who teaches English at Berkeley Springs High School.

She said she had many family members who were teachers, but after she received a bachelor's degree in English, she worked at many different jobs. None was the right one for her, she said.

Morris, 32, said that when she took her first education class to obtain her master's degree to teach, "I knew this was it."

She teaches the 11th and 12th grade and had taught 10th-graders as well.

"Students are fun at this age, and they are willing to explore their own thinking," said Morris, who has taught in Morgan County for six years and won the Mary Linn Fox First Year Teacher Award in 2002.

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"I'm here for a reason; I interviewed all over the state, but only Morgan County was interested in me. I belong here," she said.

"We have been very fortunate to have many Morgan County teachers nominated for this award," said Laura Smith, president of the Morgan County Board of Education. "The fact that Sarah Morris was chosen makes the whole system very proud and gives a boost to all of the Morgan County staff."

Morris said she believes an ordinary person in the right place and the right time with the right people will be successful.

"These are the right kids, in the right community, and it's the right place to be," she said.

"My kids look at me and see I'm just a normal person, and I'm teaching them to find answers like I have to find answers."

She said she teaches her students to be critical thinkers, frequently asking them, "What is your thinking and how did you get there?"

"Knowing ourselves saves us. Knowing how I'm going to respond to things, it helps me to perform better in the world," by using metacognition, or being aware of how you learn, Morris said.

The old teaching model was an empty vessel and "you just fill it up," but that does not serve us anymore, she said.

"I think that every teacher should be an activist, a learner and a participant in their own classroom," Morris said.

She said she cannot motivate kids unless she's motivated herself. "If kids see us as people, maybe they don't think of us as 'teachers.' I can laugh at myself," she said.

"Learning how to learn is the most important thing," said Morris, who said her goal as a teacher is to "not stop learning."

She said that as a student, her best subjects were reading and writing.

"That's why I'm an English nerd," she said.




Q&A



Name: Sarah Morris

Hometown: Raised in Morgantown, W.Va., now lives in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

Occupation: English teacher

What was your proudest moment?: "I have rewarding moments on a daily basis. While awards are wonderful, I find smaller reminders to be more important. When kids e-mail, call, or visit me from college to tell me that my class has formed the basis for college writing, that's a sign that I'm doing what I am supposed to be doing. The evidence of the everyday difference I make in individual lives is the greatest affirmation."

Whom do you most admire and why?: "I admire anyone who struggles to do what is right instead of what is easy."

What is the best piece of advice you ever received and who gave it to you?: "When I was young, both my mother and my grandmother were notorious for saying 'Can't never did anything.' I have always questioned myself and my own abilities, and as a child I had the tendency to be too afraid to try new things. They taught me that whether I believe I can do something or believe I can't do something - either way I'm right."

She said "Lately, I've found a lot of comfort in a confidante's advice: 'Don't argue with success.' Again, I tend to be self questioning, and this helps me see the value others see in me - that if something's working, it must be special."

What is the next goal you would like to achieve?: She would like to earn a higher degree, probably pursuing a master of fine arts in creative writing.

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