2015 Award Winners
2015 Kansas Master Teachers
* Special Award, ** Black Endowed Chair Recipient
2015 Kansas Master Teachers Inspire In, Out of Classroom
February 24, 2015
Inspiring their students is a common description of the members of the 2015 class of Kansas Master Teachers, which was announced today. The teachers chosen for this annual award are:
- Carmen Cantrell, special education teacher at Indian Hills Middle School in Prairie Village;
- Barbara Clark, fourth-grade teacher at Northview Elementary School in Manhattan;
- Kori E. Green, eighth-grade U.S. history teacher at El Dorado Middle School;
- Leslie McAfee, mathematics teacher at Piper High School in Kansas City, Kansas;
- Bill McFarland, social studies teacher at Washburn Rural Middle School in Topeka;
- Reed Uthe, speech and drama teacher at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park; and
- Ginger Whiteside Steck, art teacher for sixth through eighth grades at Andover Central Middle School.
The recipients were selected by a committee including representatives from Kansas Association of School Boards, Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals, Kansas Parent Teacher Association, Kansas National Education Association, United School Administrators, Kansas National Education Association–Student Program, the 2014 Kansas Master Teacher class, and the National Teachers Hall of Fame.
The 2015 Master Teachers will be honored on Master Teacher Day to be held April 1 at Emporia State University. On that day, the teachers will present a seminar at 2:30 p.m. in the W.S. and E.C. Jones Conference Center in Visser Hall. The teachers will then be honored during a social hour at 5:45 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 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, Oklahoma, established an endowed chair for Kansas Master Teachers. The fund provides a stipend to bring two Master Teachers to Emporia State for part of a semester. During this time, the teachers present to classes of education students.
Seminar for Pre-Service Teachers
The 2015 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 2015 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 2015 Kansas Master Teacher addressed the audience, sharing anecdotes, philosophies, and their perspectives from serving in education.
2015 Kansas Master Teacher Award Dinner Photos
Biographies below were included in the program for the year listed here and were current as of that time.
Special Education Teacher
Indian Hills Middle School
USD 512 Shawnee Mission
Students are the most important members of a school culture, says Carmen Cantrell. Putting that belief into practice every day has had a lasting impact on her former students, their families and co-workers.
One mother saw her son, who has high-functioning autism and ADHD, enter middle school so disorganized that it became a nightly chore to help him track his assignments to turn in the next day. Cantrell was assigned to help him.
“She got to know [him] as a person and learned how he operated each day,” the mother wrote. “She communicated with every teacher in every one of his classes — daily. She took over his planner. He dropped an elective so all his homework was completed during study periods under her supervision.”
But Cantrell didn’t “manage” the student. Instead, his mother said, “she taught him how to function in the environment by stripping down his responsibility to a bare minimum and then adding it back incrementally.”
By the end of the year, the student was keeping track of his own assignments and staying organized to complete his work during study halls.
Cantrell began teaching in 1971 in Missouri after earning a bachelor’s degree from Pittsburg State University in sociology with a minor in special education and psychology. In 1989, she earned a master’s degree in special education from The University of Kansas.
She joined the Shawnee Mission school district in 1986 and is now at Indian Hills Middle School in Prairie Village. Cantrell is a collaborative teacher in seventh- and eighth-grade English classes and a teacher mentor for a science teacher. She also is a member of and resource for Professional Learning Communities at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels in English, social studies and science.
For one former student, Cantrell was the inspiration for her own career as a teacher.
“She was my teacher, but she was also my ally when I felt that school was too much to handle,” wrote the former student, now a teacher for 13 years. “Even with all the help and guidance, she never lowered her expectations.”
“I went back and looked her up when I got my first teaching job. I wanted her to know that her hard work had paid off … and I was going to pass along her compassion and her high expectations for my students who struggled like I did in school.”
Northview Elementary School
USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden
During her 35 years of teaching, Barbara Clark has been drawn to schools and districts with lower socioeconomic populations.
“These students come with such eagerness to learn and such excitement for all the opportunities ahead of them,” Clark said.
Clark received her bachelor’s in education in 1979 and a master’s of education in 1983 from the University of Florida. She taught in elementary schools in Florida and Texas and has been teaching at Northview Elementary in Manhattan, Kansas, since 2005.
For Clark, teaching is a collaboration allowing her to learn throughout her career from mentors in special education, administration and other classrooms. An early mentor taught her to hold high expectations for students and to look closely to determine what they truly need. This extra insight led to interesting lesson plans.
At one school, Clark said, many of her students were responsible for getting themselves and their siblings to school every day.
“I tried to weave the other skills that they would need in their daily life into the curriculum. I taught measurement lessons through cooking and baking. I taught them time by giving clocks to those students that needed them.”
Clark’s students often felt as if their classroom was a second home. One mother told how her son changed from not wanting to go to school to being excited about what he would be doing each day.
When she asked him what he liked about Clark, he said, “She treated me like I was her own kid, and when I accidentally called her mom, she always said, ‘Yes, son.’”
Other parents appreciate collaborating with Clark. “Mrs. Clark also does a great job including parents in the education of their children,” one parent wrote. “She sent a weekly letter to parents letting us know what lessons the class studied, and new lessons for the next week. She would include behavior compliments and things that needed to be worked on to make learning easier for the rest of the year.”
Clark feels a strong sense of responsibility to her students and knows effective teaching requires commitment outside the classroom.
“Ultimately I come back to the fact that exceptional teachers are exceptional in their classrooms on a daily basis,” Clark said. “The relationships, the experiences, and the memories we make are essential. However, it takes much more than what is done in the classroom to make a child’s education a quality education. We must be willing to become involved in the leadership and decision making in order to make a difference.”
Kori E. Green
Eighth-Grade U.S. History Teacher
El Dorado Middle School
USD 490 El Dorado
History, government and social studies courses are more than a “bunch of dates and dead guys,” said Kori E. Green.
“In my classroom I mix history with current events and primary sources with technology,” Green explained. “Students need to be able to make connections between their reality and the past.”
Green chooses unique ways to help her students make these connections. One is to incorporate food into lesson plans. While studying the slave culture of the U.S. South, for instance, students discussed the typical rations received by slaves and made authentic, dry corn bread while discussing the importance of corn meal, along with molasses and greens.
Green attended Barton County Community College and Wichita State University before earning three bachelor’s degrees from The University of Kansas — women’s studies, history and secondary history-government education. She earned a master’s degree in history, government, social studies curriculum and instruction from KU. She joined the El Dorado school district in 2008, teaching seventh-grade Kansas history and geography for one year before moving to eighth-grade U.S. history.
Technology is key in Green’s classroom. For six years, her classes have participated in Just War, a project using computers to connect students in Kansas, New York and Virginia for online discussions of situations in U.S. history where war was a possibility.
Green’s passion for history and social studies and her ability to connect with 21st-century technology keeps students engaged.
One mother told of her daughter who dislikes social studies and history and her son who is connected to technology and disengages when faced with traditional teaching methods. Green was able to keep both students engaged.
“She utilized technology in the classroom more than any other middle school teacher in the building, in my opinion,” the mother wrote. “She is also a very boisterous, fun, energetic teacher who shows a passion for her subject matter. So, whether or not a student loves social studies, they at least get a kick out of her passion.”
That passion has stayed with a student from Green’s first classroom in 2008. The former student, who said he holds all of his history teachers in high regard, “realized Ms. Green is a huge part of why I love history. It is not often that you encounter someone who possesses a wholehearted passion for what they do.
“Her dedication permanently altered my life in wonderful ways,” he concluded, “and that is something I can never properly thank her for.”
Piper High School
USD 203 Piper
At different times, according to Leslie McAfee, teachers share characteristics with parents and grandparents, serving as performers on a stage, cheerleaders, fun-loving compatriots and business professionals.
“Learn to relieve yourself of the exhaustive responsibility of the starring role,” McAfee wrote in an open letter to a new teacher describing her teaching philosophy. “Let your students become the performers and ease yourself into the role of stage manager.”
McAfee attended Kansas City Kansas Community College before heading to Kansas State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education in 1976. She taught at Eisenhower Junior High in the Kansas City, Kansas, school district from 1978 until 1981. She began teaching at Piper High School in 1997.
From the beginning of her career, McAfee has incorporated techniques she believes will help her students regardless of what other teachers may think. She admits it wasn’t easy as she recounts her first month as a teacher when she arranged the desks into groups of three and four. A veteran teacher shook McAfee’s confidence with a simple statement: “Oh, I see we are playing middle school today!”
A perceptive administrator, however, told McAfee to stick with her instincts, and her freshman classroom continues to have desks in small groups.
Throughout her career, she has made a reputation of reaching out to those who feel overwhelmed — both students and fellow faculty — as well as making math accessible to her students.
Students who have left McAfee’s classroom continue to feel connected and seek her out.
“She was one of the few teachers who would take the time to help students even in other subjects,” recalled one former student. “I distinctly remember my senior year, Mrs. McAfee allowing a small group of us to hold a study group in her classroom for our college anatomy and physiology class during our free period.”
One mother recounted her son’s first day of high school after attending a parochial grade school.
“He was filled with anxiety and he would not even exit the car,” the mother wrote. “Mrs. McAfee noticed through all the craziness of the first day of school and students rushing into the school that there was a child in need.
“Because of her compassion and soft-spoken manner, he was able to get out of the car that day and walk into a world unknown to him.”
Seventh-Grade Social Studies Teacher
Washburn Rural Middle School
USD 437 Auburn Washburn
After nearly 40 years in the classroom, Bill McFarland has a concise teaching philosophy. “In a nutshell,” he wrote, “my philosophy of teaching is know your stuff, be enthusiastic, treat everyone with respect, be flexible and have fun.”
And McFarland is committed to sharing his philosophy and experience with future teachers. He has supervised more than a dozen student teachers and scores of education majors have observed his classroom. “I have learned from great educators and hope to pass on the very best I have to offer,” states McFarland.
McFarland earned a bachelor’s degree in history and education from Washburn University in 1977 and a master’s degree in educational administration from Emporia State University in 1986. His entire career has been in the Auburn Washburn school district, teaching at Auburn Junior High, Auburn Middle School and Jay Shideler Middle School before moving to Washburn Rural Middle School in 1990. He teaches seventh-grade Kansas history and geography. He is a former football coach and currently is a wrestling coach.
Parents and former students tell of McFarland’s ability to bring history alive in class. A Civil War re-enactor, McFarland wears his uniform to class and brings in relics to share.
“He knows more about history than anyone I know,” wrote a former student. “He uses this tremendous knowledge to enhance his teaching. He does not just teach the basics, but he includes incredible stories and pictures.”
Many of these stories come from McFarland’s dedication to research. During his summers, he spends time at the National Archives and Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as well as Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields in the eastern United States.
Some of McFarland’s students create projects for History Day competition even after they leave his class.
“Last year at National History Day in Washington, D.C., he surprised me by coming to watch my presentation,” a former student wrote.
McFarland’s love of history and sharing it with others extends beyond the classroom. Author of the book Keep the Flag to the Front, History of the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry, McFarland is a frequent guest at civic organizations and other classrooms besides his own.
“Mr. McFarland has touched the hearts and minds of countless students. … My life has been enhanced on an academic and personal level due to Mr. McFarland’s passion, devotion and love for history and teaching,” writes a former student.
“I am so honored to have had him as a teacher.”
Speech & Drama Teacher
Lakewood Elementary School
USD 229 Blue Valley
As a young child, Reed Uthe delighted in coming home from elementary school and teaching his sister and neighbor children what he'd learned that day. As an adult, now teaching in the Blue Valley school district, he glories in reaching a much broader audience of students.
Uthe graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s of arts degree in elementary education from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He taught in elementary schools in South Dakota before moving in 2000 to teach third grade at Valley Park Elementary School in the Blue Valley district. Since 2002, he has taught speech and drama at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, Kansas.
He earned a master’s of education degree in 2006 from Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri.
Parents and students who wrote in support of Uthe's nomination praised his teaching skills, his dedication to students in and out of the classroom, and his encouragement that inspires students to do their best.
“Reed Uthe has a great sense of humor,” a former student wrote, “but more than that he has a real heart for how he treats his students.”
That student, who recently graduated with a degree in elementary education, credited Uthe as her inspiration for choosing a teaching career.
“He didn't just make me want to get a teaching degree; he made me want to create a classroom where kids feel comfortable and happy growing and learning for a year,” she said.
Another student said Uthe had introduced her to the world of theatre, the one place she felt she truly belonged.
“Mr. Uthe truly cares for his students,” she said. “He opened his classroom after school for those who needed a place. ... He made the school a second home, something I didn't think possible.”
A trio of current Lakewood students wrote in joint support, “He creates an environment in which every student feels they can thrive and be themselves.”
The mother of three former students appreciated Uthe's innate ability to connect with students no matter how diverse their personalities, backgrounds or experience.
“Somehow that dear man reaches every single one. He is like a middle-schooler whisperer. He has a sixth sense about how to instill confidence and security in his students,” she wrote. “He is the sort of teacher you thank God your child had.”
Ginger Whiteside Steck
Art Teacher, 6th-8th Grades
Andover Central Middle School
USD 385 Andover
Ginger Whiteside Steck incorporates her love of art and science into memorable experiences for students at Andover Central Middle School. The subjects “overlap and allow me to develop art projects that integrate science and correspond to the school curriculum,” she said, in a written explanation of her philosophy of teaching.
Steck received a bachelor’s of science in art education from Central Missouri University in 1980, certification in middle school science grades 5-9 from Wichita State University in 1999, and a master’s of art education with an emphasis in science from WSU in 2001.
She began teaching in Missouri schools in 1980, later moving to Kansas. After staying home with her children, she returned to teaching in 1999 at Anderson Elementary in Wichita and joined the Andover school district in 2000, teaching at Meadowlark Elementary for 11 years before moving to Andover Central Middle School in 2011.
Mathematics, foreign cultures and art history also work their way into Steck's art classes.
Students test the properties of paper used in three-dimensional projects such as origami. They learn about Chinese culture creating paper and the Japanese invention of origami as an art form.
“My children and I remembered some of the interesting techniques and unconventional materials (Steck) used in favorite projects,” a parent wrote. “... I believe these types of projects have helped my kids think out of the box when doing assignments for other classes.”
The parent praised Steck for holding “Extra Art” before and after regular classes, to allow participation for students with schedules too full for art classes during the school day. “She also has held summer art classes at our local library.” Steck advocates for her students, making sure their artwork is displayed and recognized around the community in museums, libraries, banks and competitions.
At her summer “Guinea Pig Camp,” eighth-graders try new projects that may be used in the upcoming fall session.
“This woman is hands down the best teacher I have ever had,” said an eighth-grade boy.
A former student credited Steck for guiding her to a bachelor’s of science degree in design, emphasizing interior design and architecture.
“My love for art and design was generated at an early age due to the guidance of Mrs. Steck,” the University of Nebraska graduate wrote. “She helped me realize my potential and always taught me creative variations to the design process. ... I could not have asked for a better experience and mentor in learning my true potential in art and design.”