Patricia Shafer, October 21, 2015
It’s official. We just nominated physics teacher Deb Semmler for the Global Teacher Prize, an annual $1 million award to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. This award recognizes an individual who practices innovative instruction, models excellence, encourages others to become teachers, achieves demonstrable student learning, and engages young people as global citizens.
Over three-plus years we’ve come to know Deb and other teachers where she works – East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, NC, USA. We’ve had the honor of partnering with East Meck on a variety of programs, including Any1Can, The Global Class, and facilitation of a staff Global Immersion Learning Journey. We’ve witnessed “Eagle Pride” at this incredibly diverse, partial magnet IB school of 2,000 students. If we had the ability, we’d make the case for multiple awards spread far and wide to many teachers. So, why did we nominate Deb for an award that’s informally called the “Nobel Prize for Teaching”?
- In an age when Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) education is a global need and opportunity, Deb is an Advanced Placement Physics teacher and co-founding member of East Meck’s National Academy Foundation (NAF) Academy of Engineering (AOE)
- In 18 years of teaching, she’s coached 15 Science Olympiad teams that qualified for North Carolina statewide competitions, and since she’s been teaching IB diploma physics, East Meck’s overall score has increased dramatically and is now above the world average
- Her spirit is about being “all in” for and “all about” students and teachers, always finding new ways to coach and mentor both
- She’s a co-founder of the school’s Global Immersion Steering Team (GIST), which is ambitiously developing materials, frameworks and professional development experiences to incorporate global education in the classroom
These are some of our “just the facts, ma’am” evidence of Deb’s teaching impact in the city of Charlotte . . . But we also nominated Deb for her growing impact on education around the world. In summer 2015, Deb accepted our invitation to travel to Rwanda and learn about challenges of and gaps in science and engineering education in East Africa. She worked alongside teachers at two all-girl’s secondary schools in remote, rural areas, visited eight rural public and private schools overall, and met with the Minister of Science Education. Now, she is building on this experience with Mothering Across Continents as lead project catalyst developing “Pivot Academy,” an approach to helping schools in even the most challenged communities to shift from teaching through textbook memorization to approaches that use the design cycle and hands-on experiments to solve problems: food/hunger, water/sanitation, and environment/sustainability.