2014 Award Winners
2014 Kansas Master Teachers
* Special Award, ** Black Endowed Chair Recipient
Caring About Students Comes Naturally to 2014 Kansas Master Teachers
February 26, 2014
Forging relationships between teachers and individual students is the hallmark of the 2014 class of Kansas Master Teachers.
Seven teachers will be honored April 2 during a day of events at Emporia State University. The teachers are:
- Bonnie Austin, secondary instructional coach at Dodge City High School;
- John V. Bode, third-grade teacher at New York Elementary School in Lawrence;
- Lori Gunzelman, seventh-grade math teacher at Andover Central Middle School;
- Signe Truelove, special education teacher at Emporia Middle School;
- Carla Varner, fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School;
- Kathleen Wilhite, retired math teacher at Olathe South High School; and
- Maria Worthington, English Language Arts teacher at Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park.
Officials at The Teachers College at Emporia State University announced the 2014 class today. A committee that included representatives from Kansas Association of School Boards, Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals, Kansas Association of Elementary School Principals, Kansas Parent Teacher Association, Kansas National Education Association, United School Administrators, Kappa Delta Pi, the 2013 Master Teacher class, National Teachers Hall of Fame and Center for Innovative School Leadership selected the recipients.
The seven teachers will be honored on Master Teacher Day, April 2. On that day, the teachers will present a seminar, “Master Teachers: Reflecting Excellence,” at 2:30 p.m. in the W.S. and E.C. Jones Conference Center. Then they will be honored during a social hour at 5:15 p.m. in Webb Hall Lobby of Emporia State’s Memorial Union followed by the dinner awards program at 6:30 p.m. in Webb Hall.
Emporia State University established the Kansas Master Teacher awards in 1954. The awards are presented annually to teachers who have served the profession long and well and who also typify the outstanding qualities of earnest and conscientious teachers.
Since 1980, Bank of America has pledged more than $100,000 to permanently endow the Kansas Master Teacher awards. In 1984, the Black family of Broken Bow, Okla., established an endowed chair for Kansas Master Teachers. The fund provides a stipend to bring two Master Teachers to ESU for part of a semester. During this time, the teachers present to classes of education students.
Seminar for Pre-Service Teachers
The 201 Kansas Master Teachers held a seminar for education students in Visser Hall at Emporia State University, where future teachers had the opportunity to learn from the cream of the crop in the state. Among the topics addressed were meeting students’ individual needs, the dedication and commitment required as an educator, and continued professional development.
The 2014 Kansas Master Teachers were honored at a banquet in Emporia State University's Memorial Union. Tributes from colleagues, supervisors, former and current students were read before each of the 2014 Kansas Master Teacher addressed the audience, sharing anecdotes, philosophies, and their perspectives from serving in education.
Biographies below were included in the program for the year listed here and were current as of that time.
Secondary Instructional Coach
Dodge City High School
USD 443 Dodge City
Describing herself as a “cheerleader for the underdog,” Bonnie Austin’s nearly 30-year career as an educator is filled with students who found her classroom magical.
“She has been a private tutor for my own kids and we have dubbed her the ‘Math Whisperer’ at our house,” wrote a Dodge City principal. “As my son once said, you just sit down next to her and math becomes easier to understand.”
For Austin, being called a math whisperer is high praise.
“I consider the title an honor because it is always my goal to build the confidence of my students,” Austin said.
Austin earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities/elementary education with a minor in mathematics from Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and a master’s degree in elementary administration from Fort Hays State University.
Since beginning her career teaching sixth- through ninth-grade mathematics in the Dodge City school district, Austin’s students have expanded from middle-school age to college age and fellow educators in the district. During her career, Austin was a building principal at Sunnyside Elementary in Dodge City before becoming a math teacher and instructional coach at Dodge City High School in 2009. Since 2010, she has been an adjunct instructor of intermediate algebra during the summer at Dodge City Community College.
“Even though the age of my students may change,” said Austin, “my philosophy of teaching remains the same. Confidence, belief, curiosity and the hunger to learn are the cornerstones of my philosophy.”
Austin’s magical ability to explain mathematics has allowed her students to achieve their dreams.
One former student told how her plans to graduate from college became harder after marrying and having a son. Achieving her goal seemed impossible when she enrolled in a college math class.
“I took three math classes and failed them all,” she recalled, “but to put salt on an open wound, one of those teachers told me there was no way I would ever pass a college math class, and I should try finding a job that didn’t require a degree.”
Once she walked into Austin’s college classroom, the former student recalled, the world opened up and she now is a physical earth science teacher.
“When I’m in class now, my only hope is that I can touch my students’ lives like Mrs. Austin touched mine.”
Austin’s talents and willingness to serve others extends beyond the classroom. Since 1990, she has been a church organist and now leads the worship team at Wilroads Gardens Christian Church. She was an active parent volunteer with her sons’ Boy Scout packs and troops, serves as “clerk of the course” for the Dodge City Swim Team and also volunteers for Pride of Southwest Kansas, Depot Theater, Numana, South Dodge Business Association, YMCA Founders Campaign Committee, Relay for Life, Dodge City Mothers of Multiples and Ford County 4-H Advisory Board.
“Bonnie isn’t just a teacher,” wrote a college professor. “She is an integral part of the community here and does her best to reinforce the importance of life-long learning and ‘making a difference’ to her students, to her colleagues and to adults in Dodge City."
John V. Bode
New York Elementary School
USD 497 Lawrence
Data may drive every decision that John V. Bode makes in the classroom, but what his students and their parents see and remember is the personal attention Bode gives each student and the ways he makes lessons relevant.
“Like most teachers, Mr. Bode had us do reading groups,” wrote a former student, who said she didn’t like reading. “In Mr. Bode’s class though, the questions he gave us to think about while reading were really interesting, not just who is this character but questions that made us think and debate. I often found that I really got into reading because I was so interested in the questions Mr. Bode had thought up for us.”
For Bode, a third-grade teacher at New York Elementary School in Lawrence, inspiration comes from the foundation of the same standards he is asked to teach.
“The Common Core standards call for children to take a point of view, justify it with evidentiary support, respond to criticism and think critically about their position,” said Bode. “My philosophy: Teachers should apply this same process to our profession!”
Data was invaluable when working with students as a speech-language pathologist, a career Bode began in Denver after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas. After a stop in the Turner school district in Kansas City, Bode came to Lawrence schools in 1995.
“After a decade as a speech pathologist, it became clear that I needed to make a change,” Bode said. “While I loved my work, in my heart I knew I could do so much more. It was time to become a classroom teacher, helping all students, not only students with speech/language disabilities, excel.”
Bode earned his teacher certification in 2002 from Ottawa University in Kansas City and worked as a special education teacher before teaching third and fourth grades at New York Elementary in 2003.
In the classroom, Bode’s unique approach includes using music he’s composed to teach math concepts and using supplemental science activities to teach cooperative learning. At the same time, he encourages individual students’ interests, from Native American Hoop Dancing to drawing.
One parent recalled a parent-teacher conference at which Bode showed him his daughter’s desk covered in pencil drawings.
“I was ashamed, thinking that he was going to tell us to discipline her at home,” the parent wrote. “Instead, he praised her talents and said that he told my daughter she could keep that till the end of the semester, and then she needed to clean the desk, which she did.”
Outside the classroom, Bode uses his musical talent to perform benefit concerts, was a Stephen Minister at Trinity Lutheran Church, is a member of the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice and worked with Save Our Neighborhood Schools when budget cuts threatened New York Elementary.
“It meant so much to see that our child’s teacher was not just punching a time clock at the school but had put his heart and soul into the community,” wrote one parent. “He kept the debate out of the classroom, maintaining the stability and security of that space for his students.”
Seventh-Grade Math Teacher
Andover Central Middle School
USD 385 Andover
Lori Gunzelman’s seventh-grade classroom at Andover Central Middle School includes more than mathematics instruction.
“High expectations for all students is the driving force in my classroom,” Gunzelman explained. “It is my expectation that all students will grow mathematically but also build social and responsibility skills during their time in my class.”
According to former students and their parents, Gunzelman accomplishes her goal.
“One particular talent Mrs. Gunzelman possesses is the ability to create lessons of interest to the students,” wrote one parent. “She is able to teach math by engaging the students in projects so creative that often times, the students are so wrapped up in the project, they are unaware of the depth of learning that just occurred.”
Some of Gunzelman’s unique classroom projects include the Barbie Jump in which students calculate how many rubber bands Barbie needs to survive a bungee jump from the football field bleachers; using specific games from The Price Is Right game show to study simple and compound probability; and creating projects to explore three-dimensional geometry.
“One group investigated to determine if Double-Stuffed Oreo cookies were truly double-stuffed by finding the volume of the filling as well as weighing the cookies,” Gunzelman explained. “Their results determined they were not, in fact, double-stuffed — naturally this caused great angst for eighth graders!”
High expectations from Gunzelman were welcome, said a former student.
“She expected that her students would put effort into her class and consistently do their work,” recalled the former eighth-grader. “In turn, Mrs. Gunzelman worked just as hard to give her students the tools to succeed. … I truly believe that one of the reasons Mrs. Gunzelman’s students succeed is because she expects them to.”
Another student quickly noticed an effective technique that Gunzelman used in the classroom.
“When Mrs. Gunzelman lectures, she makes sure to make eye contact with many of her students; I was one of those students who would make eye contact back,” the student wrote.
Eye contact, the student said, helped focus her attention on the lesson and also gave Gunzelman immediate feedback whether students were understanding the material. The student, now in eighth grade, is a math aide in the seventh-grade class.
“This time, she did not make eye contact with me because I wasn’t the one receiving the lesson,” she discovered.
Gunzelman began teaching in 1994 after earning her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Kansas State University with endorsements in math, physics, chemistry and earth science. In 2000, she earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Wichita State University.
She works to instill a sense of service in students both in her classroom and at the school, where she has served as student council co-sponsor. A popular project is an annual food drive.
“Several years ago, I began integrating the food drive into my math classroom by having students create bar graphs to display the amount of food collected by each class,” Gunzelman said, which spurred students on to higher donation rates.
More recently, Gunzelman has connected the food drive with math standards.
“Many computation skills are involved during the week as students help to collect, count and sort the food while also maintaining a spreadsheet of the data and creating the graph — but students don’t view their work as ‘doing math’ as they are active and involved in an important task.”
Special Education Teacher
Emporia Middle School
USD 253 Emporia
Special education teacher Signe Truelove is the go-to person at Emporia Middle School.
“Students wanted to be in her class; teachers wanted her on their team,” recalled a former administrator with 35 years experience in public education. “She is the kind of person I wanted my kids to have as a teacher; she is the kind of person I hope my grandkids have as a teacher.”
That sentiment is echoed by a colleague, herself a special education teacher, whose son was in Truelove’s classroom.
“There is one thing to know a colleague from a work standpoint but you find out about an individual’s true teaching skills when you have a child of your own in their class,” she wrote. “She took the time to educate other teachers about his specific behaviors and help them develop plans to deal efficiently with them so that he could be successful in their classrooms. She made my son feel like he was ‘worth’ her effort!”
Truelove earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Emporia State University in 1993 with certifications in English for speakers of other languages, learning disabilities, American history, geography, political science/government and world history. She earned a master’s degree from Emporia State in 2002 and a English for speakers of other languages from Kansas State University in 2006.
She has been a special education teacher at Emporia Middle School since 1999. At the middle school, Truelove maintains her own special education classroom, co-teaches in other classrooms and also teaches an intensive reading class.
“Ms. Truelove has always encouraged me to read more books and also pushed me to finish the books I have started,” wrote one student.
Wrote another: “She pushed me and took time out of her life to help me find that reading is not all bad as long as you have the right book. She personally found books for me to read all through the two years that I attended middle school.”
In the former EMS Transition Room, Truelove’s students worked on numerous community service projects including making and packaging lip balm to send to soldiers; making valentines and thank-you cards for veterans, cards for New York City firefighters and buttons for parents of Emporia High School football players.
Outside the school, Truelove’s community involvement includes participating in Relay for Life and serving as a youth mentor for former students.
For Truelove, developing relationships with her students is key to their success.
“Research shows that strong correlations exist between student achievement and positive relationships,” Truelove said. “By creating a classroom environment with mutual respect and cooperation, I have formed strong relationships with students that have lasted beyond high school.”
Students and parents both recognize Truelove’s genuineness.
Wrote one parent, “Our son was able to succeed in academics, sports and develop high self-esteem and motivation because of the excellence that Ms. Truelove gave in middle school that then grew and cultivated in high school.”
A former student planning to be a special education teacher said, “I know for a fact that I would not be attending college today if it was not for her. She is the kind of teacher I want to become myself.”
Lincoln Elementary School
USD 490 El Dorado
For Carla Varner, teaching is not a “one size fits all” profession.
“Teachers need to have lessons that cover a range of skills to meet the needs of their students,” she said. “I try to take field trips, have guest speakers and support a large variety of learning opportunities whenever possible.”
And some field trips have a personal component.
“Last year we took a field trip to my family’s farm where we cooked a meal over a fire,” she recalled. “Several students wanted to know if we were going to have s’mores because they had never had them. You guessed it — our meal was topped off with s’mores.”
Varner earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Emporia State University in 1987 and has continued taking graduate hours from Emporia State. She taught third and fourth grades for 20 years at Lincoln Elementary in El Dorado before moving to fifth grade in 2007.
Unique classroom projects include creating a community quilt and making bread in a bag, both projects that show students how to work toward longer term goals; creating window displays for a local business the class adopts; developing a famous Kansas character for an in-school wax museum and participating in the Adopt-A-Farmer program through the local Farm Bureau.
Teaching life lessons is important to Varner, and admired by her former students.
“I was always the kid who wanted to take work home and do it at home,” wrote a current high school senior who was in Varner’s classroom for fourth and fifth grades. “She would prevent me from doing this so I had to learn how to use my time in the classroom efficiently. … I’ve learned the more I can get done in class, the better off I will be later, giving me more time to focus on my other activities and athletics.”
Varner’s relationships with her students may begin when they enter her classroom but they don’t end when they move to sixth grade.
“I will be their proud ‘school-mom’ whenever I hear about them in the future,” she said. “I love to see my students performing at the high school activities, visiting our school with the band, etc.”
One student recalled visiting Varner’s classroom as a high school senior athlete.
“When I walked into the room it brought me back to fourth grade,” he said. “I remembered her smile and the little chairs. We introduced ourselves and Mrs. Varner told stories about me, and she remembered every detail.”
Family involvement is key, said one parent who had two daughters go through Varner’s fourth-grade classroom.
“Carla also stresses the importance of family involvement,” she wrote, “encouraging family sysems to take an active role in their child’s learning process. Her classroom always had an open door policy and we were always welcomed and encouraged to help with activities. We very much appreciated the opportunity to participate and contribute.”
Varner also contributes to the community. She is active in the community as a 4-H leader, member, teacher and leader at El Dorado First Presbyterian Church and serving with her daughter’s school parent-teacher organization.
Retired Math Teacher
Olathe South High School
USD 233 Olathe
For Kathleen Wilhite “math power” is key to the future success of her students.
“They may never see the innate beauty I see in mathematics,” she said, “but they should see the usefulness of mathematics and use their own mathematical skills sets to successfully solve real world problems.”
Wilhite began her career in 1972, as math teacher for seventh through ninth grades at Old Mission Junior High School in Shawnee Mission. She retired in 2013 from Olathe South High School where she taught geometry, advanced algebra 2 and trigonometry.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and secondary mathematics from Emporia State University in 1972 and her master’s degree in educational psychology and research from The University of Kansas in 1992.
Wilhite is a testament to the changes in classrooms.
“I am a study in the evolution of math education over the last four decades,” she said. “I started my career as a traditionalist with quiet students all arranged in neat lines of desks with myself as the center of attention. However, my views of students’ needs and my understanding of how students learn changed quickly and therefore my role as teacher and the structure of the class changed as well.”
In her classroom, Wilhite went beyond teaching the theories and practice of mathematics. She also taught the history of mathematics by helping her students learn about mathematicians, developments and discoveries in the science of mathematics.
“Mrs. Wilhite wouldn’t just introduce a new concept — she’d explain where it came from and make sure we understood not just what to do but why to do it,” wrote a former student who noted that Wilhite is the only math teacher he’s had who included math history. “I have on many occasions remembered a forgotten mathematical skill by recalling how and why it works.”
Along the way, Wilhite pushed her students to succeed.
“As the year when on, she started to take a special interest in me, being aware of my academic past, one could say I was a trouble student,” recalled a former student who earned a substantial scholarship to study civil engineering at Colorado State University. “If it wasn’t for Mrs. Wilhite seeing through my flaws to my potential that year, I would not be where I am today. … To this day I have not had a teacher as wonderful as her.”
Former students also have gone on to careers in education, some as colleagues and others as college professors.
“The greatest lesson I learned about teaching was one I learned long before I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” wrote a colleague who also was a student of Wilhite’s. “Kathleen Wilhite told me that her philosophy was to teach to the top of the class rather than the bottom or the middle. This, she said, made everyone better.”
Outside the classroom, Wilhite has been involved with Science Pioneers, which encourages youths to pursue careers in the STEM fields; the Expanding Your Horizons program to encourage sixth- through eighth-grade girls to pursue math and science, and coaching MATHCOUNTS teams.
English Language Arts Teacher
Blue Valley North High School
USD 229 Blue Valley
Passion. Devotion. A calling. Three of many descriptors used by those who know Maria Worthington, who teaches English Language Arts at Blue Valley North High School.
“Her passion for the language and the literature itself, her love for the students, and her devotion to teaching as a whole is what makes Mrs. Worthington one of the few who can in turn inspire a true love of learning in her students,” wrote a current senior in her classroom.
Worthington earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education from The University of Kansas. She earned National Board certification with the support of a program offered at Emporia State University.
For Worthington, a career in education was a natural fit.
“The teaching genes are strong in my family,” she said.
Her mother, a retired teacher, “still lovingly teaches and inspires daily,” she said. Her maternal grandfather began as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and was honored with the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation Award in 1961.
“Beyond crafting lessons and assigning homework, I believe in looking at each student with empathy, just like my mother taught.”
Being able to see inside her students and motivating them leaves a lasting impact.
“I truthfully will never forget the first morning I went in for extra help on an essay, for it was one of the first times in my life when someone that I respected and admired showed true faith in my writing,” a student wrote. “For perhaps the first time in my life, I had true faith in myself.”
Another student recalled walking into AP English class as a senior with the attitude that literature would not apply to anything later in life.
“I remember it like yesterday,” the student wrote. “She said, ‘Some of you may have no desire to be in this class, but if you’re going to be here, I have a challenge for you — love it or hate it.’ … I ended up loving her English class more than any other literature class I have ever taken. Ironically, I have been using the information from AP English more than many of the other classes I took during high school as I am currently studying performing arts with an emphasis on classical theater.”
Worthington brings her outside experience into the classroom. As a reader for the national Advanced Placement literature and composition exam she was able to give more specific instruction to her students. For another assignment, she helped students craft submissions to National Public Radio’s This I Believe website. Through a national Crystal Apple Award from Time Warner Cable, Worthington was able to bring stars from the Animal Planet to the school for an assembly, working with biology and zoology teachers to make it relevant for all students.
Her involvement with Wounded Warrior Projects — completing the Tough Mudder 11-mile Special Operations Forces charity run — turned into a literature unit using “All Quiet on the Western Front” with students raising money for Wounded Warrior Project.
Worthington also has served on the board of Fairway Homes Association, worked with Advanced Placement teachers and students to raise food donations for Harvesters through a kickball tournament volunteers time with the curriculum committee of her Old Mission Methodist Church.