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Teacher of the Year transformed negative feelings about school into a career

One of the reasons Christina Hammer-Atkins teaches is because she hated school as a child

August 26, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Christina Hammer-Atkins helps Joey Breeden with his classwork Friday at Boonsboro Elementary School. Christina Hammer-Atkins is Washington County Teacher of the Year and is also a state finalist for 2012-13 Maryland Teacher of the Year.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO — Christina Hammer-Atkins remembers school often being boring.

So as a teacher, she strives to have engaging and exciting lessons for her students.

“I teach for a variety of reasons. One is I hated school as a kid. That’s something that a lot of people don’t know. I just came from a pretty underprivileged family, and I never want a child to feel the way that I felt when I was growing up and going to school,” said Hammer-Atkins, who learned last week she is a state finalist for 2012-13 Maryland Teacher of the Year.

“And I just love the curiosity that they have. I love that they want to learn if they’re in the right environment, and I love imparting what I know with them and just to give them that love of learning ...,” Hammer-Atkins said.

Hammer-Atkins said she was “absolutely shocked and honored and flattered” last Tuesday when Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox visited her at Boonsboro Elementary School to let her know she was a state finalist.

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“I am very honored to represent Washington County,” said Hammer-Atkins, who in April was named Washington County Teacher of the Year. The annual award is sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

Hammer-Atkins, 50, who lives in the Rohrersville area, just began her fifth year as a second-grade magnet teacher at Boonsboro Elementary. Boonsboro Elementary is a magnet school for global awareness and world languages.

Fourteen years ago, Hammer-Atkins ran for a seat on the Washington County Board of Education because, she said at the time, local schools needed to be brought “up to speed.”

“I think our school system has come a long way in that period of time. I think the direction that we’ve had from the last two superintendents ... has made us a top-notch school system,” said Hammer-Atkins, referring to Wilcox and former Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan.

“When I ran, I didn’t think we provided rigor. I didn’t think we provided all the necessary components to reach every single child,” she said Thursday.

Oral interviews with the seven state teacher of the year finalists will be conducted in September, with the winner to be announced Oct. 5 at a gala at Martin’s West in Baltimore, according to a Maryland State Department of Education news release. The winner will receive cash awards, technology equipment, national travel opportunities and a new car valued at more than $25,000 donated by the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association.



From student to teacher

Hammer-Atkins said her enthusiasm for teaching comes partly from her Attention Deficit Disorder, but also from her approach to life.

“I love life. I’m one of those people who’s blessed with an optimistic outlook. And I just think every day is a gift, and so I try to live it to the fullest,” she said.

Her Attention Deficit Disorder gives her perspective from her time as a young student.

“If you have Attention Deficit Disorder, the last thing you want to do is sit in a chair for eight hours,” Hammer-Atkins said.

One of her middle school teachers, Vic Welch, stood out because he was animated and sometimes jumped up on a desk, said Hammer-Atkins, who grew up in Ohio and attended Woodmore Middle School. That’s the type of teacher she said she wanted to be.

As a magnet teacher, Hammer-Atkins said she goes more in-depth with the second-grade curriculum. She expects her students, by October, to be using mini laptops almost every day in class.

“(Students) get to have that early on in their education, so I teach them a lot of computer research,” she said.

When she became county teacher of the year, she received $500, a $5,000 classroom upgrade package and the use of a Honda for a year courtesy of Hagerstown Honda.

Hammer-Atkins shared the upgrade package with other teachers at Boonsboro Elementary. She gave each grade-level team, as well as the group of elective or encore teachers, $500 to choose what they wanted to help their classes.

Most got iPads, including Hammer-Atkins, though she was still waiting for hers to arrive, she said. Other teachers got flip video cameras or Nooks, a type of e-reader.

On Thursday afternoon, she was wrapping up the school day with low-tech materials, a children’s book and a dry-erase graphing poster on which students were marking the amount of lemonade characters in the story sold each day.

When she told the 20 children they had to finish up soon because school was close to ending, a few children expressed their disappointment, “End of school?”

Accessible to students

Lorraine O’Connor remembers helping out in Hammer-Atkins’ class and the kids “having a grand time” learning about air, even as the bell rang for the end of the school day.

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