The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 7, 2012

Teachers cherish nominations by members of Globe’s All-Area Academic Excellence Team

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — There are two sides to every story. Zephan Wade, a senior at Carthage High School, said he moved from a small school with a class of 12, and wanted to stand out in this new, bigger group of students.

Teacher Caroline Tubbs helped him do just that, he said.

“I wanted to be the best in a class of 256,” Wade said. “I wasn’t able to do that until I met (Tubbs). Without her wit and sarcasm to put me in my place, I wouldn’t be nearly as successful.”

But Tubbs said that Wade was already on his way. Two years ago he walked into her AP language class, filled with 33 sharp students, and worked hard to distinguish himself.

“He walked in whistling,” Tubbs said. “The others didn’t whistle. He also always had a pun, double entendre or wordplay.”

New way of thinking

Tubbs said that Wade eventually talked to her about thinking in different styles. The straight-laced, logic-minded Wade eventually came around to Tubbs’ abstract thinking, based on a high number of conversations -- many during Wade’s open hour, she said.

“I’m abstract,” Tubbs said. “He thought I was weird, and he had to explore someone who thinks like that.”

The teacher-student relationship was one of many highlighted during the 26th annual honor banquet for members of The Joplin Globe’s All-Area Academic Excellence Team. Twenty-two students from around the region were picked as the heads of their class, based on test performance and academic success.

Being chosen to the Globe’s team is difficult. It is based on a score developed from a student’s grade point average and ACT or SAT score. The formula used to pick winners ensures that top quality students make the team -- not just those who test well.

Students who make the team are invited to a banquet where they honor a teacher they feel aided their academic careers.

That nomination is a sign of gratitude that teachers appreciate deeply, said Georgiana McGriff, educational services coordinator for the Globe. She has 29 years of experience in education as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent.

“Every single thing teachers do or say -- every look they make, every smile they give -- has an effect on a child,” McGriff said. “It’s rare that the kids say, ‘Thank you.’ Some just don’t feel comfortable saying that. To have a nomination, that means if this is one student who took the time, there are many more students who feel the same way.”

The banquet, held Monday at Billingsly Student Center at Missouri Southern State University, featured students and teachers cherishing relationships that led to academic success and mutual growth.

“Teachers get a bad rap,” said Kathleen Ely, a language arts teacher at East Newton High School who was chosen by two members of this year’s team. “We hear about all the negativity of teaching. But nights like tonight tell us that it is a privilege to teach.”

‘Ultimate Challenger’

East Newton students Angus Bennion and Jared Hopkins said they picked Ely because of the way she challenged them. Bennion called Ely his “ultimate challenger,” based on how she helped him tackle figurative meanings in literature.

“She made me work hard to get the grade that I needed, and helped me think more abstractly,” Bennion said. “Especially in AP literature. I used to see the literal side, but now I can see figurative meanings.”

Tamara Ponce, a history teacher at Webb City, was also chosen by two students -- Catherine Steubing and Darshi Edirisooriya. The honor is a capstone in her teaching career -- Ponce said she was leaving teaching to enter another profession.

“When I opened the letter (about being chosen), I was humbled and moved to receive this from a student like Katie,” Ponce said. “Then after getting the letter from Darshi, it was the highlight of my career. When I see those two students in the hall, I get a pang of what I will miss.” Ponce said she was proud of their accomplishments and their future education. Steubing has been accepted to Yale, and Edirisooriya will attend Vanderbilt.

Learning to fly

Ethan Williams, of McDonald County High School, was especially fond of the relationship he built with math teacher Darbi Stancell. Moved close to tears, he spoke about how Stancell helped with math, faith and life. “I recently had a bad day where I struggled with faith and friends, just had a rough day altogether,” Williams said. “That’s when I realized how much I’m going to miss her.”

Stancell was also just as moved by Williams, in everything from a shared religion to watching his mathematical accomplishments.

She talked about how Williams progressed rapidly through math, and how he made an impact on her life. Noting that students in McDonald County don’t take algebra until they are freshman, she said that Williams progressed all the way to calculus 3.

“Every once in a while, you get a student that makes you realize why you get the big bucks,” Stancell said. “We had to change the rules because of him, and he paved the way for other students. He’s flapped his wings, and I know he’ll fly far.”

Team members praised their chosen teachers for a range of reasons, including how they were challenging, encouraging and understanding. Even cynicism was praised -- Joplin High School student Michelle Barchak said she appreciated the healthy sarcasm of science teacher Charles Parker.

“His cynicism brightened my day,” Barchak said. “He showed me it was OK to have many interests, as long as I pursue the ones I really love.” Parker kept his cynicism in check when talking about Barchak, and praised how she jumped right into a tough science class as a freshman -- and how she appreciated math more than other student he taught.

“I appreciate her being abnormal,” Parker said. “That is something I can admire.”