For the second consecutive year, two Johnson County teachers have received the state’s prestigious Kansas Master Teacher award.
Offered by Emporia State University, this award has recognized outstanding Kansas educators since 1954.
Maria Worthington, an English language arts teacher at Blue Valley North High School, and math teacher Kathleen Wilhite, who retired from Olathe South High School in 2013 after more than four decades of teaching, are honored among the 2014 class of Kansas Master Teachers.
The award “serves to promote exemplary teachers and teaching in general throughout the state,” says Lucie Eusey, media and marketing director for the Teacher’s College at Emporia State University and the award program. “Teachers don’t get a lot of positive input right now and they’re so grateful to be appreciated.”
After nomination by their individual schools, the rigorous application process required nine recommendation letters, a professional portfolio and a videotaped interview. Additional 2014 recipients are from school districts in El Dorado, Emporia, Dodge City, Lawrence and Andover. All will be honored in Emporia next Wednesday as part of Master Teacher Day.
Worthington — the 10th consecutive Blue Valley educator recognized as a master teacher — has taught at Blue Valley North for 14 years and previously worked in Ottawa. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Kansas and national board certification, she is passionate about language, literature and teaching as a whole.
“Education should not be a classroom or a building,” Worthington said. “It really should be an experience instead of an assignment. It’s so joyful to see connections in skills and benefits instead of assignments.”
One Worthington literature unit on the book “All Quiet on the Western Front” included students raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Worthington also helped students craft submissions to National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” website and worked with biology and zoology teachers to bring in Animal Planet stars for an assembly through a national Crystal Apple Award from Time Warner Cable.
“I feel like I am a collection of all my mentors and teachers,” Worthington said. “Every teacher I’ve ever worked with is part of this award.”
Wilhite feels the same way about her colleagues. “I also had wonderful people to work with and I feel like they allowed me to grow professionally,” she said. “I miss the camaraderie with my peer group.”
Wilhite said students reacted very positively to her nomination. “One student came in after the nomination and said, ‘I’ll write you a letter,’ and any student I asked said ‘Absolutely.’ ”
Wilhite has a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary mathematics from Emporia State University and a master’s in educational psychology and research from the University of Kansas. She believes math can play a major role in every student’s future success.
After teaching at Old Mission Junior High School in Shawnee Mission Wilhite taught geometry, advanced algebra 2 and trigonometry classes at Olathe South High School, where she also introduced mathematical history.
“I wanted them to be critical thinkers so they think deeply — not just regurgitate — and I wanted them to figure out what helped them learn best,” she said. “Some need to be coddled a little more, some need to be pushed a little harder, and some haven’t even begun to realize their potential.”
Through Science Pioneers, Wilhite encouraged youths to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She also promoted math and science careers among sixth- through eighth-grade girls through the Expanding Your Horizons program, and coached MATHCOUNTS teams.
“I think teaching is one of the most rewarding professions for an individual,” Wilhite said. “I loved every minute and I would highly encourage anyone that was thinking about education to become involved.”