If the crown fits

Washington named finalist for State Teacher of Year


Photo by Carlie Clem

English teacher Monica Washington, a finalist for State Teacher of the Year, will travel to Austin on Sept. 7 to conduct an interview for the official title of State Teacher of the Year.

Story by Sydney Schoen, co-editor in chief

There’s a queen on campus.

Monica Washington, AP and enriched English III teacher, must go to Austin on Sept. 7 for a round of interviews, and submit a video detailing her work with students and an address to the teachers of Texas by Sept. 20 in order to be judged for State Teacher of the Year. 

Among three chosen as finalists for State Teacher of the Year, superintendent Paul Norton surprised Washington during the district convocation on Aug. 20.

“Everyone was crying, and I burst into tears,” Washington said. “I had no idea that was about to happen because I expected to be told Aug. 26.  My heart was literally about to beat out of my chest.  I was completely in a daze and didn’t know until later that I got a standing ovation. I had no clue.”

Washington also holds another esteemed title––queen. Crowned at a recent English department gathering, colleagues highlighted her for her noble work.

“Mrs. Washington would be considered royalty in the field of education because of her love for her subject, her love for her students and her love for the profession,” Ryan Murry, English department chair, said. “This observation is not only true in my eyes but in the eyes of the entire English department. Royalty deserves a crown, and I had the honor of looking for the perfect tiara. It was important to find the perfect crown for an outstanding teacher.”

For the little Tennessean who placed stuffed teddy bears on their “desks” and mercilessly assigned the neighborhood kids homework, teaching was an absolute.

However, Washington faced criticism from many who believed her “road” to teaching was lined with ever–present monetary struggles and no reward. Disregarding their pleas, Washington rode a horse and carriage down the “road”––only stopping for glass slippers of positivity from her favorite teachers.

Mrs. Washington is truly one of a kind. To this day, I remember what she told my class on the first day of school. She said, ‘My goal for this year is not to force you to love English. My goal is simply to make you appreciate it more and enable you to successfully apply it as you go forward in life.’ That quote could not sum up her class any better. She didn’t just teach us how to write, she taught us how to enjoy writing and be proud of what we’d written. She didn’t just teach us how to analyze and pick apart a book, she taught us how to relish finding symbolism and connections and all kinds of rhetorical devices that would be invisible to the untrained eye. She is one of the most hardworking individuals I have ever met, and Texas High is beyond blessed to have her.”

— Ben Norton, 12

“Being selected also means that I was inspired to contact the teachers who inspired me,” Washington said. “I have sent an email to Carolyn Elion Askew, my fourth grade teacher who I adored.  She came to hear my high school valedictorian speech, and she encouraged me after she knew I wanted to teach by allowing me to do some observations in her classroom.  She doesn’t know about any of this yet, but I want her to know that her influence lives on.  I love to get those messages from students, and being selected for this prompted me to do that for her.”

To remain in contention with state prospects, Washington had to write eight essays that corresponded with predetermined topics. This extensive criterion’s topics ranged from why she is a teacher to what her potential acceptance speech would include.

“I was able to take them on an imaginary journey to my classroom.  I think they got a chance to see my passion and the strategies I use to share that passion with my students,” Washington said. “I hope the teachers at our school originally chose me because they see me as a positive person who is willing to share ideas and encourage others.  I hope they recognized that I absolutely love being able to motivate my students and that I see what I do as more than a job. I see my students and my colleagues as family.”

Due to the gallant honor associated with selection as a state finalist, Washington will make sure that her tiara transcends special occasions.

“The tiara will definitely be making an appearance,” Washington said. “In fact, I was so taken by such an amazing day that I have decided to have Tiara Tuesdays from now on. Even if I don’t wear the tiara, it will be on my shelf in my room.  Tuesday, Aug. 20, was absolutely perfect.  Who finds out that they are a finalist in front of Ms. G[ruwell] from Freedom Writers? She told me that she could tell the district is behind me because the whole place erupted at the sound of my name. I’ll remember that forever.”