BROWNSBURG — When Delaware Trail Elementary School visual fine arts teacher Suzanne Whitton walked into work, she thought it was just another Friday. But when she saw her family shortly after the school bell rang, she realized it was going to be anything but a routine day.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett also surprised Whitton by visiting the school to announce that she had been named the 2012 Indiana Teacher of the Year.
She’s the first teacher from Brownsburg to earn the title, that will now take her on a journey across the country next year to represent Indiana.
Students cheered and Whitton was overcome with joy as she accepted congratulations from a gymnasium full of her colleagues, students, and family.
“I was completely surprised,” Whitton said. “We do a lot of service for others in the art room. The students don’t just make art, they make art for others in need, people suffering through cancer, heart disease, and so forth.”
It was that service learning aspect, along with her energy, that Bennett lauded when pointing out why Whitton was chosen for the distinction.
“In an environment where people talk about narrowing the curriculum, it’s the fact that she has been so focused on expanding the horizons of students, yet reinforcing literacy, and I think her commitment to students understanding the importance of serving others,” Bennett said. “She’s so passionate about service learning. When our staff came and watched her and viewed her classroom, they were just blown away.”
To Whitton though, it’s less about her than about the students.
“My favorite part about being a teacher is my kids and seeing them succeed,” she said. “Everyone should make it across the board for my kids. I try everything possible to make them the best art students, and we’re trying to do things for others as well.”
Whitton is also a reading instructor and said she places high emphasis on making sure she’s able to bridge that classroom content.
From here, Whitton will travel the country gaining additional knowledge on how to expand as a teacher and bring new ideas back to the classroom. The 2011 Indiana Teacher of the Year, Melanie Park of Riverview Middle School in Huntington, said that the experience is invaluable.
“Being the teacher of the year has changed my life,” Park said. “The opportunities I was offered were simply incredible. I had the opportunity to meet the President, senators, and representatives and talk with them and be a voice for educators all over Indiana. That’s humbling because there are so many wonderful people in the classrooms and it’s exciting to put a face on educators who are so passionate about what they do. Also, just visiting schools you walk in and get new ideas for your school. All of those experiences have changed my life.”
Bennett added, “This experience provides the teacher of the year such incredible resources in terms of learning what’s going on throughout the country. It really does expand your horizons outside of a school district and outside of a state, so she truly becomes from Indiana not only our representative, but our national ambassador.
“The lessons learned, the things she will get from her other colleagues across the country, will do nothing but enrich her classroom and her district and her studies.”
Donna Petraits, communications coordinator for the Brownsburg Community School Corporation, said it was an honor to have one of their teachers selected.
“She is one of the most energetic and engaging teachers I have ever known,” Petraits said of Whitton. “She has great ideas and she has a real heart for including service learning in teaching.”
Eligible teachers complete an extensive portfolio of their work, which gets sent to the state of Indiana for review. The state selects 10 semifinalists, and then whittles it down to three finalists. When Bennett stepped to the podium, he announced that Whitton had been named one of those three — before dropping the surprise that she’d won.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Whitton said. “I’m nervous, but I’m excited. Hopefully, I can represent the state well. I know I’ll learn a lot, meet a lot of new people, and hopefully I can represent Brownsburg well.”Funeral Home in Clayton.