GERMANTOWN – Madeline Hanington, an English content specialist and teacher at Hallie Wells Middle School, received the honor of Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher of the Year because she helps students believe in themselves through their writing.
She will be added to the pool of candidates for State Teacher of the Year.
Hanington’s award was presented during The Champions for Children event, which took place at BlackRock Center for the Arts on April 25. The Marian Greenblatt Fund sponsors the monetary prizes that accompany the awards.
“The Marian Greenblatt Fund, named for a former Board of Education member, recognizes teachers that inspire their students to achieve, encourage younger teachers to be the best they can be, and help their school and community,” according to an MCPS news release.
Three finalists are selected from the pool of entries. In addition to Hanington, the other two finalists were Maura Backenstoe, a kindergarten teacher at Burning Tree Elementary School and Teak Bassett, a social studies teacher at Clarksburg High School.
Individuals from the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, the MCPS School Board and MCPS staff vote to select the winner from finalists. Board of Education President Shebra Evans (District 4) was a member of the selection committee. Before the committee votes, it interviews the three candidates and observes them as they teach their students. Applicants must have taught in MCPS for at least five years.
Principal Barbara Woodward of Hallie Wells said Hanington helps students and teachers accomplish their goals by showing them how to believe in themselves.
“There is nothing that she can’t get other people to know that they can do,” Woodward said.
Before she would call on her students and fellow teachers to challenge themselves, Hanington followed a life journey of her own. Despite being an English language learner as a child and growing up in “the projects” in New York, Hanington graduated high school and earned a degree in art. Hanington thanks her parents for their love and support, for inspiring her and for their belief in the importance of in getting an education. Neither of her parents went to college.
Hanington had a miniature cheering section in the back row of the audience of 140 people, consisting of a group of Hallie Wells teachers, the principal and an assistant principal. Other Hallie Wells teachers said they were proud of Hanington and that they knew why she won. Several said she was comparable to a best friend one has just met. English teacher Greta Fitch said Hanington’s teaching style is distinctive because of her “connections with students.”
“The way that she’s able to reach students just goes so far beyond the academic level,” Fitch said. “When she meets a kid, she’s all about getting to know who they are, what their story is, what their background is, what their interests are, and trying to give them (…) the means to do what is in their heart, to show what they know.”
Hanington said getting to know her students is fundamental to teaching, because it helps her pupils feel safe.
“Every child is different, so it’s my job to get to know every child, every student,” Hanington said. “And that’s my job. If I don’t do that, then they’re not safe.”
“It’s not challenging. It takes work, but it’s give-and-take,” said Hanington, about getting to know each student. “I have to share a little bit of myself and they get to know me, too.”
Michael Doggett has been teaching for 13 years and he started teaching English at Hallie Wells last year. He said Hanington helped him settle into his new job.
“Seeing the best in people, like bringing out the best in people, I really experienced that firsthand because I went through a lot of struggle last year in transition to a new school,” said Doggett, sixth-grade English teacher. “I knew she (Hanington) had my back, and it got me through that.”
“Just having that human connection of a person being like, ‘Okay, I just want to do whatever I can to support you. I just want to be there to help you,’ and at the same time ‘I know you can do this,’” was what Hanington provides, Doggett said.
Woodward said that when she interviewed Hanington for the teaching job, she immediately stood out from the other candidates. Hanington was placed in charge of choosing the reading materials for English classes and her reading selections were relatable to a diverse population of students, which pleased Woodward. Teachers and Woodward said several of her students come back to visit after they graduate as Hanington has taught at Hallie Wells since it opened in 2016.
“She changes lives in a way that is magical in the classroom,” Woodward said. “She gets kids to believe in themselves before they even know that they are going to be able to learn something. She inspires that not only in the kids but staff and even parents.”
Hanington has been teaching in the county for 19 years.
Outside the classroom work, Hanington co-sponsors the Junior National Honor Society and sponsors the school’s Lady Scholars program, an after-school program to support female students “achieve their highest potential.”
Teacher of the Year for 2018 Kristen Kane, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Forest Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring, announced Hanington as the winner. Kane gave advice to the finalists not to try to hide from the praise and recognition but instead accept the ways the award was about to “change your life.” Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith, Evans and members of the Greenblatt family presented Hanington with her award.
“The Fund awards each Teacher of the Year finalist a prize of $2,000, and the two Rising Star Teaching awardees $1,000 each,” according to the MCPS news release.