Nationally Certified Teacher is Agnes Meyer Winner

March 26, 2004
"In a frequently intolerant world filled with religious and political conflict and violence, how can one teacher make a difference to her students? How can she encourage a diverse group of teenagers to recognize and acknowledge their own biases? How can she challenge the students to overcome those biases and open their minds?"

These are questions that James Hubert Blake High School teacher Mary D.P. Wagner asks. And she's been so successful in answering them in the comparative religion and government classes she teaches that she has received this year's Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award from The Washington Post.

The prestigious Agnes Meyer award is presented annually to one teacher from each Washington metropolitan area school district. The winners will be honored by the Post at an April 26 reception.

With an undergraduate degree in Jewish history and masters' degrees in both U.S. history and secondary social studies from the University of Maryland, Wagner began her teaching career in 1992 at Damascus High School, where she taught U.S. history and national, state,and local government at all levels ranging from basic skills to on-level and honors. She also directed student theater productions and sponsored the drama club.

After transferring to Blake in 1998, Wagner taught U.S. history and NSL government. In 2000, she also started teaching comparative religion as an elective. She received National Board certification last November.

"Mrs. Wagner is a master teacher, outstanding in every way," Blake Principal Carole Goodman said in her letter of support for Wagner's nomination. Her ability to inspire, engage and excite even the most uninvolved students is nothing short of remarkable."

Creating a Desire to Learn

In her government classes, Wagner may instill that desire to learn by conducting an extensive mock congress in which students write, debate, and vote on their own bills. In comparative religion, opening lessons are derived from students' basic questions. A visit to a mosque and the opportunity to speak with its leader, for example, help non-Muslim students become more comfortable with Muslims at Blake and in the community.

"Students are energized by the opportunity to take control of their own learning," Wagner says. She helps students both confront controversial and sensitive issues and develop their own individual strengths. Students who have mastered a concept will help explain it to the class in their own way.

"The students become invested, not only in their own learning, but in the learning of the entire class," she says. Quieter students may choose to speak via keyboard through the online discussion board Wagner sponsors.

Wagner is recognized for being a technology trailblazer at the school. When the school went to online grades, she set up a shell web page for each staff member and then trained staff on how to use the grading system. She monitors the teacher side of the school web page, troubleshoots problems, co-coordinates all staff technology training and runs workshops for parents. Wagner's own web page includes not only grades and assignments but also study tips, links to other web sites, and ways for parents to contact her.

She also was named the 2002 Montgomery County Outstanding Technology Using Educator. Wagner's use of and role in technology at Blake is one of the major reasons the school was selected as one of three secondary sites in Montgomery County for visits by the National Association of School Boards in March.

Wagner is a frequent presenter at conferences on social studies and technology, such as the Middle States Conference for the Social Studies, the National Council for the Social Studies, and MCPS Rigor and Challenge Symposium. On top of all this, she also has found the time to be the sponsor for the school's National Organization for Women club and Gay-Straight Alliance.

Although her credentials and her arsenal of innovative teaching methods are impressive, Wagner's ability to share her own knowledge and enthusiasm is key to her success. “I deeply love being in the classroom, love learning and love teaching,” she says. “This passion is evident to my students, who become more enthusiastic about school when they are with me.”

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