MICHIGAN CITY – The Indiana Department of Education conducts an annual Teacher of the Year program to recognize the most outstanding classroom teachers in the state. And not only does Michigan City have two candidates for the 2020 prize, but they teach at the same school.
"For over 60 years, IDOE has conducted the Teacher of the Year program to recognize outstanding classroom teachers from across the state," according to Dr. Jennifer McCormick, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction.
"The program's mission is to inspire, rejuvenate and celebrate the teaching profession. The Indiana Teachers of the Year are the voice of education throughout Indiana and the nation."
Two of those voices can be heard at Barker Middle School, where Gregory Olson is a seventh-grade teacher of English/Language Arts, and Mariah Pol – who was honored as the state's History Teacher of the year in 2019 – teaches seventh- and eighth-grade social studies.
Should either one win, they would be the third La Porte County teacher to take the honor – Charles Stephens of MC's Joy Elementary won in 1974; and Myrtle Burns, who won the inaugural award in 1957, split the school year between Lincoln Elementary in La Porte, and Thomas Jefferson Elementary in South Bend. JoAnn Brugos, a first-grade teacher at Hailmann Elementary in La Porte, was a finalist for the award in 2011.
Olson has been a classroom teacher for 18 years – including two at Niemann Elementary; 10 at Elston Middle School, and the last four at Barker – and has coached boys and girls basketball for 16. He was raised, and still lives, in Chesterton.
"We are hear for learning," he said in his Michigan City Area Schools online bio. But it's more than just classroom stuff. The focus is on choices – with the first grading period looking at "the year-long focus on choices, using a variety of genres to investigate this theme." The second is "What Influences My Choices? ... we analyze print, visual, and film texts that are common in the media and advertising."
The third is "Choices and Consequences," where students "explore how decisions can have far-reaching consequences that determine your character, values, and contribution to society." The final grading period is dedicated to "How We Choose to Act," which focuses on how "writers make choices about their use of language based on their intended effect."
And while teaching is his passion, he says the most important part of his life is his family – "my beautiful wife Heather and our two sons, Cameron and Evan." Olson works part-time in the food and beverage department at Sand Creek Country Club.
In his spare time, he enjoys playing golf, swimming and watching college football especially his alma mater, Nebraska. He also has a passion for thoroughbred horses and one day hopes to own the winner of the Kentucky Derby, according to his IDOE bio.
Pol received her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, majoring in Secondary Social Studies Education. She studied abroad in Ghana, England, Cuba, and did her student teaching in Ireland. She was awarded a Fulbright-Hays fellowship to study the history and culture of Morocco.
"All of my life I have been intrigued by history and geography," Pol said in her MCAS bio.
"When I was a kid, my dad and I would go on vacations to different historical places, and we had always bonded through that mutual love. This love for history and geography still means a lot to me today and I am so enthusiastic to teach it!"
She took part in the Oleander Initiative, a teacher program in Hiroshima, Japan, and also participated in the U.S. Bilateral Arab Chamber of Commerce TEACH program in Bahrain. She is a member of the Korean War Legacy Foundation, where she is a Teacher Fellow conducting research on the conflict.
"In my spare time, I often still travel," Pol said in her bio. "Not just for myself but for our classroom as well. I constantly seek out opportunities to grow and learn more. I have partaken in many teacher institutes across the world and country that align to our class curriculum, having me learn first-hand about topics to bring back and teach to all of my students.
"I hope to use my travels and passion for history and geography to prove how important social studies is," she said. "In our class, you will not only become a proud American citizen, but also a productive global citizen."
In a letter of recommendation for Olson, MCAS Supt. Barbara Eason-Watkins called him a teacher who is able to "effectively reach all students and support their success," saying an analysis of grades showed his students "improved at two times the expected growth levels for a year in school."
Olson "goes beyond the norm and mentors students out of regular class time," Eason-Watkins wrote, and "hopes his legacy will include his efforts to be a strong male role model for students in addition to striving to bring out the best in all he comes in contact with."
Finally, she wrote, "he makes himself available to provide whatever leadership needs exist on a given day" – including supervision, filling in for principals on committees and providing coverage support for other teachers.
"Greg is making a difference with his student academically and by responding to needs ... he has no limits and gives freely of his time and expertise to the betterment of all at his school."
The superintendent called Pol an "amazing teacher" whose mission is "to ensure that students are able to explore social studies through multiple lenses and to do it through an engaging and inspirational instructional approach."
After a lesson on Hirsohima after the bomb, Eason-Watkins wrote, Pol's students "described how they felt they had 'personally lived' the experience after her unique approach." In a similar fashion, her expertise on the Korean War left students with "a strong sense of pride and value for the participating veterans" they interacted with.
Pol also serves as district middle school social studies chair and "shares her knowledge with other educators in social studies, across other disciplines in our district, and across the country" and works with groups like Rotary "to create more awareness across the community..."
Eason-Watkins said, "We are extremely proud to have Mariah on our educational team providing such first-class learning experiences for both students and teachers."
Finalists are chosen by a screening and selection committee made up of former recipients, IDOE staff, educational organization leaders, business and community leaders, and representatives from higher education, according to IDOE.
"Former winners are comprised of retired educators, administrators, college professors, and teacher leaders that continually provide support to the education community," McCormick said.
The winner, who will represent Indiana teachers at the national level, will be selected in the fall.
INDIANA TEACHERS OF THE YEAR
2019 - Tamara Markie - McKenzie Center for Innovation and Technology, Indianapolis
2018 - Jerome Flewelling, Crown Point High School
2017 - Jitka Nelson - Logansport Community High School
2016 - Jean Russell - Haverhill Elementary School
2015 - *Kathy Nimmer - Harrison High School
2014 - Steven Perkins - North Central High School
2013 - Suzanne Whitton - Delaware Trail Elementary, Brownsburg
2012 - Melanie Park - Riverview School, Huntington
2011 - Stacy McCormack - Penn Harris Madison School Corporation, Mishawaka
2010 - Byron Ernest - Lebanon High School
2009 - Tania Harman - Warren Primary Center, South Bend
2008 - Daniel Kuznik - Pike High School Freshman Center, Indianapolis
2007 - Anna Shults - Fall Creek Elementary, Fishers
2006 - Louisa LaGrotto - Westlane Middle School, Indianapolis
2005 - Molly Seward - Snacks Crossing Elementary, Indianapolis
2004 - Mark Weaver - Clay Junior High School, Carmel
2003 - Robert Pickett - Marion Elementary, Sheridan
2002 - Terri L. Boutin - S. Ellen Jones Elementary, New Albany
2001 - Kurran Strunk - Muessel Elementary, South Bend
2000 - Kathy Politz - West Vigo Elementary, Terre Haute
1999 - Larry Hurt - Ben Davis High School, Indianapolis
1998 - Kim Giesting - Connersville Senior High, Connersville
1997 - Judy Fraps - Greenbriar Elementary, Indianapolis
1996 - *Dan Durbin - Francis Joseph Reitz High School, Evansville
1995 - Katherine Stahl - Maywood Elementary, Hammond
1994 - *Francis Mustapha - South Side High School, Fort Wayne
1993 - Diane Cutshall Hayes - Indian Meadows Elementary, Fort Wayne
1992 - Michael Kaiser - Pine View Elementary, New Albany
1991 - Darcia King-O'Blenis - Navarre Middle School, South Bend
1990 - Mary Kay Baker - Rise Learning Center, Indianapolis
1989 - Karen McKibbon - LaSalle High School, South Bend
1988 - Tony Willis - Jeffersonville High School, Jeffersonville
1987 - Bob Mulligan - John Glenn High School, Walkerton
1986 - Bernard Barcio - Carmel High School, Carmel
1985 - Paulette Cwidak - John Adams High School, South Bend
1984 - Glen Dillman - Carroll Junior High, Flora
1983 - Victor Bardonner - Lawrence Central High School, Indianapolis
1982 - Sofia Rodriguez - Snider High School, Fort Wayne
1981 - Calvin Lee - Hoagland Elementary, Hoagland
1980 - Daniel Rayschich - John Hinds Area Vocational School, Elwood
1979 - Robert Ciscell - South Decatur Junior-Senior High, Greensburg
1978 - *Sue Talbot - University Elementary, Bloomington
1977 - Oscar Underwood - Southwick Elementary, Fort Wayne
1976 - Joyce McFadden - Dwight Eisenhower Elementary, Crown Point
1975 - Barbara D. Moore - Western Elementary, Russiaville
1974 - Charles Stephens - Joy Elementary, Michigan City
1973 - Emaline Kleinknecht - Tekopel Elementary, Evansville
1972 - Ruth Swank - Riverside Elementary, Fort Wayne
1971 - Rudolph Holycross - Columbia City High School
1970 - Kay Mendenhall - Oliver Morton Elementary, Winchester
1969 - Carl Ebel - South Ripley High School, Versailles
1968 - Robert Wray - South Side High School, Fort Wayne
1957 - Myrtle Burns - Thomas Jefferson Elementary, South Bend; and Lincoln Elementary, La Porte