Two Johnson County teachers have been chosen for one of teaching’s highest honors: to be called a Kansas Master Teacher.
Carmen Cantrell, a special education teacher at Indian Hills Middle School in the Shawnee Mission School District, and Reed Uthe, a speech and drama teacher at Lakewood Middle School in Blue Valley, are among the honorees. Leslie McAfee, a math teacher at Piper High School, was also honored.
Candidates are nominated by their schools and then submit a portfolio of reflections and letters of recommendation. Recipients also were from Andover, El Dorado, Manhattan and Topeka districts.
Cantrell is a collaborative teacher in seventh- and eighth-grade English classes, and a member of and resource for professional learning groups in English, social studies and science.
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“The nomination alone was an honor for me,” she said. “I recalled individuals who inspired me, students who challenged me, and situations in which I was the learner rather than the teacher.”
The most important part of her job, Cantrell said, is to build independent and life-long learners.
“The best teaching and learning cannot be hurried or rushed,” she said. “It must be thoughtful and thorough, explicit and direct, with students as the central feature.”
Cantrell’s work has made a lifelong impact on her students and their families, as they wrote in her recommendation letters.
She is also appreciative of her co-workers.
“I am surrounded by extraordinary individuals,” she said. “We help each other create a professional learning environment in our building.”
The best advice that Cantrell has for future teachers is to “be passionate about what you do.”
Uthe is the 21st Blue Valley teacher to receive the honor.
“His passion for teaching and his relationships with students, staff and parents provide all of us with an example of what it means to be a teacher,” Scott Currier, Lakewood Middle School principal, said in a statement.
Uthe was nominated, in part, for his dedication and encouragement of his speech and drama students.
“The most important thing I can give a kid is hope. I can teach them my content, I can teach them the skills it takes to speak in theater. But the most important thing to do is teach them hope,” he said. “Wherever they go, that is going to play a major part.”
Many students wrote Uthe letters of recommendation. One student wrote that he inspired her to become an educator.
Uthe has had his own inspirations, including previous teachers and co-workers.
“I’ve been teaching for 26 years with a lot of great people who I’ve learned from and a lot of this is reflected on them.”
McAfee joined the Piper School District in 1997. She graduated from Kansas State University with a bachelor’s in secondary education.
“It meant a tremendous amount to just be honored by the staff,” she said. “I was good with that. It was a great honor.”
McAfee dreamed of being a teacher when she was a little girl playing with her Barbies. Today, she is described as a model teacher who helps mentor young teachers.
“You have a certain content to teach, but how you do it is up to you,” she said. “I’ve always been inspired by the people who gave you the freedom to be creative and do it your way.”
McAfee has always drawn inspiration from her peers. She keeps a colorful classroom and tries to teach new and interactive lessons.
“Math and algebra are my least favorite subjects, so to go to algebra and actually understand it easily and enjoy it was nothing short of a miracle,” said a Piper High School student.
At the end of a long day, Uthe remembers why he does what he does, why McAfee and Cantrell do what they do, and why educators across America are in the classroom.
“The most important thing is that you have to do what is best for kids first,” he said. “First and foremost, that’s what our job is all about.”
Cantrell, Uthe and McAfee will be honored on April 1 as part of Master Teacher Day at Emporia State University.