Of the 1,070 graduates in Princeton’s Class of 1995, only 30 received certification to become teachers. Michelle Shearer ’95 was one of them – and proudly so. What started as a volunteer project at the Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf in Trenton quickly became Shearer’s passion and profession. Last year, she wrote about her first trip to the Teacher Preparation Program’s office in her junior year. “Whatever was required, I knew I simply had to teach,” Shearer recalled. “Almost 20 years later, science teaching is my life’s work.”
Shearer has spent much of that time teaching Advanced Placement chemistry in public schools, including the Maryland School for the Deaf and Urbana High School School in Frederick, Md. Her work has helped to turn promising students into high achievers, and this week, the Council of Chief State School Officers recognized her dynamic, distinguished teaching with the group’s highest honor, selecting her as the 2011 National Teacher of the Year. She is the second Princetonian to win the award, joining 2005 honoree (and classmate) Jason Kamras ’95.
On May 3, Shearer and the teacher of the year honorees from each state met President Barack Obama in a ceremony held at the White House Rose Garden. In her remarks, Shearer spoke about the most recent “pep talk” that she’d given to her students, as they prepared to take their AP chemistry exams. She advised them to remember that they are problem-solvers, and that they should have confidence and forge ahead, no matter how difficult the question.
“Likewise in education, no matter how challenging the issues, we must be problem-solvers,” Shearer continued. “And as we continue to debate ideas, allocate resources, and implement change, we must make progress in a positive direction and always, always see the faces of our students.”
After a round of applause, Obama remarked, “I think you can see why Michelle is Teacher of the Year. I think I’m going to send her up to Congress to give them a pep talk.”
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