With the dream of doing something important in life, Irene Salom and Jeremy Wagner decided that teaching was the best way to turn that dream into a reality. In fall 2012, they received the state’s highest teaching honor for their dedication to the students they serve.
Salom, a fourth- and fifth-grade special education teacher at Sambrano Elementary School in San Elizario ISD, was named the 2013 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year. Wagner, an eighth-grade math and science teacher at Heritage Middle School in Frenship ISD, was named the 2013 Secondary Teacher of the Year. Wagner will also represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
Wagner and Salom learned of their top honor at a special ceremony and luncheon at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. Each received a cash award, a commemorative trophy, and other prizes.
In addition to the state's top two educators, the other four state finalists, along with the 34 Regional Teachers of the Year were honored.
Jeremy Wagner's mission in life was to save the world. Between his high school history teacher, who served as his mentor and helped him apply for college, to his mother, who served as a living example of tenacity by going back to college at age 35 to become a teacher, Wagner saw that teaching was the way to make a difference in the world. "I knew, by watching her, that my mission to save the world could become a reality by helping make that kind of difference for other students," Wagner said.
Believing that teaching is both a science and an art, Wagner incorporates hands-on activities and lessons to keep his eighth-grade science classroom from becoming boring and cumbersome. "In my room, students are engaged in learning. Hands on experiences become personal experiences, and personal experiences become the most solid platform for meaningful learning," he said.
With five years of teaching experience under his belt, Wagner has twice been nominated for Teacher of the Year, once in the 2008-09 school year while teaching at Terra Vista Middle School, and then at Heritage Middle School. Despite the accolades and honors, Wagner says his greatest contribution has been with his students.
"As a teacher, the honors and awards mean a lot, and provide me the motivation to keep going, but my ultimate goal of 'saving the world' will always lie in the children that come through the door each August, and leave a little better, a little brighter, and a little more prepared to face a rapidly changing world in May," Wagner said.
Unlike many stories you hear from teachers who say they knew they were destined to become a teacher, Irene Salom never saw herself standing in front of a classroom of students covered in chalk. After graduating with a degree in psychology from The University of Texas at El Paso, Salom's plans to begin graduate school were derailed when financial issues became a concern. Since she had worked all through college with autistic children providing behavioral analysis therapy, she decided instead to become certified in special education.
"It was out of sheer necessity that I applied to be a teacher. I hadn’t the faintest idea of what it would entail; the emotional toll it would take on my life, nor the incredible sense of purpose that it would give me," Salom said.
As a fourth- and fifth-grade self-contained special education teacher, Salom is committed to engaging her students in the same activities as their typically developing peers. She looks for every opportunity to mainstream her students when possible, teaching her science class within a class; having her students perform in the Christmas program and the talent show; and bringing technology not only to her classroom but to every special education student in the district.
"Imparting knowledge on a child is extremely rewarding, but not as rewarding as empowering the child by making him see his own potential. And when you provide a classroom where they dare to take chances because you have encouraged them to do so, you will both find strengths that are beyond the expectations you had of them. It is the most rewarding feeling anyone could ask for, and it is definitely why I keep coming back year after year," Salom said.
Contact: Jennifer Garrido, Texas Teacher of the Year Coordinator