tampabay.com

They are apple of students' eye

Rules vary on honoring requests for certain teachers. Here's a look at some popular picks.

By ELISABETH DYER
Published July 28, 2006


TAMPA - Every school has them.

Teachers everyone wants.

Parents exchange their names like favorite recipes. Kids tell their friends: You've just got to get this class.

"Getting that teacher, it can make or break their school year," says Katrina Harvy. Her daughter, Nicole, now at Wilson Middle School, remembers her all-time favorite: Johnnie Boghich, a second-grade teacher at Mitchell Elementary.

But on two occasions, Harvy's son, a Plant High School student, got teachers he didn't jibe with. Now, Harvy makes it her business to quiz her children about their teachers in those first crucial weeks of classes.

In Hillsborough County, principals set their own policies for teacher swaps. Policies range from strict denial to open choice.

At Monroe Middle School, principal Juanita Underwood does her best to arrange a trade for a parent who has a gut feeling about a teacher or an unhappy student.

"I've learned that we're here to please, so I do change schedules," Underwood said.

At West Tampa Elementary, principal Linda Geller will consider the situation.

But for Eric Bergholm, principal at Plant High School, granting requests can result in havoc in the class sizes, he said.

"For the most part, we don't make changes for teacher requests," he said. One teacher may end up with 200 students a day while another has 100. Bergholm insists a student can learn something from any teacher.

Plant students can trade if they change their minds about an elective course or to step up from a standard course to an advanced placement. Schedules, with assigned teachers, were mailed to Plant students in July. Administrators work through change requests before the first day.

To see what people think of teachers, many students and parents go to www.ratemyteachers.com, an online forum for evaluating teachers.

T'niajah Williams, 11, hopes she gets technology teacher John Lightfoot at Monroe. Her cousins told her that if she behaves in class, he'll let her play computer games.

Monroe students can get a draft of their schedule at the open house the day before school opens. Principal Underwood developed her philosophy from her own children who performed when they meshed with the right teacher.

"I believe that the personality and the connection students need are most important. All my teachers are wonderful, so it doesn't matter which teacher, as long as they connect," Underwood said.

Here's a look at some of the more popular teachers at area schools:

SARA ROGERS

In the classroom: 29 years

Teaches: Advanced placement 11th- and 12th-grade English at Blake High School

What students say about her (on ratemyteachers.com):

"One of the most brilliant and educated people on the planet."

"She opens your eyes to new perspectives and a new way of viewing the world."

"She challenges because she knows you have potential."

What she says about students: "I expect the best from my students. I think any would tell you I'm very challenging. I think I learn as much from them as they do from me. They're so giving and honest. Many of my students are in the performing arts program. There's a real mix, a lot of diversity. They bring that into the classroom. I've had kids bring in a harp and do an operetta. It transcends any kind of divisions between different classes and incorporates all different arts.

"It's exciting to see them when they learn something. Most are going to college. They're so excited about being adults. They're right on the brink of going out into the adult world and hopefully making a difference."

What her boss says about her: "She is an awesome teacher," said principal Jacqueline Haynes. "She can work with any student. She has taken inner-city kids and pushed them into taking advanced classes. She works with them for a year before to prepare them for taking her course. She challenges every kid. She's that committed to educating."

Accolades: 2006 Teacher of the Year at Blake; 2005 National Honor Society Teacher for Blake; 2005 nominated for Distinguished Teacher in the Arts from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts; 1996 Teacher of the Year at Gaither High School.

MARIA TORRES

In the classroom: 10 years

Teaches: Sixth-grade reading and language arts at Memorial Middle School

What students say about her:

"Amazing teacher. I was always able to talk to her about problems," said former student Richard Inman, 18.

"She is so funny and nice. I love her," former student Christina Harden, wrote on ratemyteachers.com.

What she says about students: "I've estimated in my career I've taught about 100 kids a year, about 1,000 kids. I think back and if God has granted me the gift to touch a few lives, what an amazing gift that is. This group of kids is so diverse; it's such a melting pot. I crave that in my life. I chose to teach at an inner-city school because these kids are coming with so many issues not just related to learning disabilities, but broken homes, drugs, violence. Being there to provide a safe environment where kids can learn and be respected is so important to me. The kids know that I'm fair and that I care. They will not perform if you don't show them that you love what you do. I teach with a sense of humor. I use rap songs ... . I've had kids come up to me years later and remember the helping verb rap."

What her boss says about her: "She has a great rapport with kids," said principal John Haley. "Just as good with parents. Some parents with older siblings come in and say, 'We want Ms. Torres.' We explain all our teachers are good. It depends on how hard they push."

Accolades: 2006 Teacher of the Year for Memorial; Teacher Spirit Award twice at Memorial; 2002 Inclusionary Teacher of the Year at Memorial; 2000 Teacher of the Year at Oak Grove Middle School (now an elementary),

ADAM GADNIS

In the classroom: Four years

Teaches: Advanced placement world history at Plant High School

What students say about him (on ratemyteachers.com):

"He has a hilarious sense of humor."

"Quality kind of guy. Very sarcastic. His jokes are random, but I love all of them."

"I give him two thumbs up, waaay up!"

"GADNIS IS GOD" (Apparently, one of his students started calling him that. Other kids began writing it in the textbooks and it grew from there.)

What he says about students: "Plant is such a great school. We draw from such a quality group of kids, the kind who can think for themselves and that's what I enjoy. Most days (class) is a place of discussion. That's what I think is most valuable for the kids. There are some days I describe it as a stage where I stand up and give out information but I really try to limit that. We have something called an inner outer circle where a random group of kids get called up and I ask them questions. Their job is to knowledgeably discuss whatever they read the night before. History's kind of boring - it can be when it's nothing but memorizing facts and dates. If you can immerse yourself in the story and think about it: Did this person make a good decision or a bad decision? Critical thinking is the thing I most want to see."

What HIS boss says about hIM: "He exudes sincerity," said principal Eric Bergholm. "In his class, you know he's going to make you think. He forces the kids to be philosophical about things that happened in history."

DAWN NORRIS

In the classroom: Six years

Teaches: Sixth-grade reading and language arts at Monroe Middle School.

What students say about her:

"She was a very, very, very good teacher. She brought so many aspects into the classroom. We played Jeopardy, all this fun stuff," Siara Espejo said.

"She instilled the value of reading to all of us. She is the best reading teacher I ever had and I love reading," Anthony Close said.

What she says about students: "I set a climate really early. The environment in my room is caring. (Students) know that we each have a respect for each other so they're more willing to buy into my reading program and work a little harder. I love sixth grade. They're still kind of elementary school babies, so they still love the teacher. You're getting the best of both worlds. They're old enough to think on their own and yet they still love you and want to have that camaraderie with you that a lot of older students don't. I have a passion for teaching. I try a lot of different innovative ideas with them.

What her boss says about her: "She volunteers to do everything," said principal Juanita Underwood. "She's in the process of becoming a presenter for Hillsborough County for staff development so she can help other teachers. Her room is very exciting."

Accolades: 2006 Teacher of the Year at Monroe

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THEY GET THUMBS DOWN

Without naming names, here are a few zingers from students (or those who claim to be students) about some Hillsborough teachers, as posted on www.ratemy teachers.com.

"Although incredibly nice, it was a pathetic attempt at teaching."

"She's way to kranky in class."

"Her class is completely pointless. She takes us outside to pull weeds."

"She is the devil."

"Can't teach a monkey."

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at edyer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.