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Pa. teacher recognized as tops in English

September 04, 2010|By DANA BROWN
  • Greencastle-Antrim High School English teacher Jennie Gabler has been recognized as the Pennsylvania English Teacher of Excellence by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the only teacher in the state to receive the award.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Greencastle-Antrim High School English teacher Jennie Gabler likes a little drama. She teaches Shakespeare, after all.

Gabler said a little drama is what she got last spring when school administrators showed up at her classroom to make a seemingly serious pronouncement.

There was something they needed to speak to her about, she said.

Her first response was a feeling of concern, she admitted.

But in front of her classroom filled with students, administrators gave Gabler the good news she had just been recognized as the Pennsylvania English Teacher of Excellence by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the only teacher in the state to receive the award.

The classroom erupted in applause, she said.

"I liked the drama," Gabler said. "My kids got a huge kick out of it."

She officially will receive her award in November at the NCTE's annual convention in Orlando, Fla.

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Teaching was not Gabler's initial career choice, she said. Originally planning to go into broadcast journalism, she decided to shift gears after an internship at a television station.

"It wasn't the life I wanted," Gabler said. "It wasn't rewarding."

She wanted to make a difference.

Following the suggestion of her college adviser, Gabler spent a couple of days observing high school teachers in action, she said.

Gabler quickly realized that sharing her love of language, literature, drama and public speaking with young people was the better fit for her, she said.

Gabler switched majors during her junior year of college and earned her degree in mass communication in secondary education from Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

Four days after graduation, she accepted a position with the Greencastle-Antrim School District.

"I found out this really is my calling," Gabler said.

This school year will be her fifth. In addition to English, Gabler teaches literature classes and sponsors the drama club.

Fellow English teacher Martina Fegan, who also won the award in 2007, nominated Gabler for the English Teacher of Excellence award.

"She's done so many new things as a teacher," Fegan said. "She just grabs onto an opportunity to do something new. She never says no. She takes on a challenge."

Gabler spearheaded the English Enrichment course for high school students who scored below proficiency on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests. All but one of her students last year saw a jump in reading test scores, Gabler said.

On a daily basis, she teaches about 75 students.

Gabler said the goal was to get them "plugged into reading" by offering them reading choices and a low-key atmosphere.

By the end of the semester, students wanted to read and often would stop by her classroom to get a book to take to study hall, Gabler said. And they continued to read after the semester ended, she said.

"That's the rewarding part, truly helping them become lifelong readers," she said.

Engaging their interest is the first step for Gabler.

"I talk up the books," she said. "I think a lot of students get overwhelmed with the words."

Gabler strives to help students look past the words and to look at the story, Gabler said. Once they are interested, students will gain an appreciation for the language as well, she said.

Edward Rife, principal of Greencastle-Antrim High School, said Gabler has an ability to build positive relationships with her students, the very reason he selected her to head up the enrichment classes.

"I needed somebody who was going to put their heart and soul into it," Rife said. "A big part of it was relationships. Kids want to do well for her."

Gabler's classroom also is one of nine rooms at the high school outfitted as a Classroom for the Future (CFF). Grant money from the CFF program provided her with 25 student laptops to be used in the classroom, a teacher laptop and an interactive whiteboard.

"Students enjoy this," Gabler said. "They are digital learners." Her hope is that the available technology better prepares them for their futures.

Fegan said Gabler's "commitment to the kids" and "attitude of excellence" as well as her positive attitude distinguishes her.

"A big part of teaching is getting students motivated," Gabler said. "If you have that passion and enthusiasm, you can draw kids in."

Fegan said Gabler "loves what she teaches. The passion always carries you through."

Gabler hopes to instill passion in her students as well.

"You want them to grow academically, socially, emotionally, to learn that English and writing can be fun," she said. "You want them to have a passion to continue their education."

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