La Plata High School English teacher Denise Childers developed a desire to teach and love for Shakespeare when she was a student at the University of Maryland. It was during a Shakespeare course that Childers realized she wanted to be a teacher. The passion demonstrated by her professor, Dr. Michael Olmert, sparked her desire to show this same love for learning to students of her own.

Whether her students are learning about Shakespeare, or reading another literary classic such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Childers strives to make the content come alive for students. Her passion for teaching is evident. It is for this passion, and her commitment to student success, that earned Childers the title of Charles County Public Schools 2017 Teacher of the Year.  

Childers said she is honored to receive an award that recognizes her love for teaching and accepts the award on behalf of all Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) teachers. “During my 24-year career in Charles County, I have been privileged to work with so many dedicated educators. Outstanding teachers are everywhere,” she said.

Learning about Shakespeare and understanding his works can be a daunting challenge for students. However, when you have an English teacher such as Childers who makes the content easy to understand, students are easily able to analyze how his works can apply in their own lives.

“I believe that teachers shouldn’t be the ‘sage on the stage,’ but allow students the opportunity to evaluate, critique, and discuss complex ideas on their own, then connect them to their own lives,” Childers, a 24-year CCPS veteran teacher, said.

One of William Shakespeare’s famous quotes originates from his play “Twelfth Night.” The quote, “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them,” is interpreted in several ways.

As it relates to education, some could interpret the quote to reflect the importance of excellent teachers who strive to achieve greatness and push their students to achieve the same. Childers models greatness in the classroom for herself and her students. She sets high expectations and pushes her students to perform to the best of their capabilities.

Students who know her well refer to her as “Momma C” in recognition of her kind and nurturing demeanor. Childers works with students at all grade levels and encourages them to engage in class content and take ownership of their learning. She goes out of her way to make sure her students realize the importance of what they are learning in her class and how it applies outside of school.

La Plata Principal Douglass Dolan uses words such as “dependable,” “trustworthy,” “competent,” and “driven,” to describe Childers. In a letter written in support of Childers’ nomination, Dolan said she is a role model and natural leader at La Plata.

“She works well with all students, staff, and parents; has an unparalleled work ethic; and epitomizes the belief that all educators are the difference. Through her example, we can achieve greatness,” Dolan wrote.

Jake Bayer graduated from La Plata in 2013 and had Childers for his sophomore and senior year English classes. He said when tenth graders received their schedule on the first day of school and saw they had Mrs. Childers for English, they could count on two things: she would have you read “Lord of the Flies” and students should commit the content to memory.

“Her lesson plans for that book are something that you hear whispers of in the halls. She makes 14 and 15 year olds excited to learn about a book written in the 1950s. Each and every day we went to Mrs. Childers’ class, whether we were sophomores being introduced to alliteration or seniors doing a deep dive into Shakespeare and sonnets, we could see the time and effort she devoted to her lessons,” Bayer wrote in a nomination letter.

Another well-known fact about Childers among La Plata students and staff is her passion for music. In 2009, Childers created an a cappella group at La Plata called Unplugged. During the past eight years, the group has transformed from an informal gathering of students to an award-winning ensemble invited to compete on a national level. Since 2014, Unplugged has earned several national awards through the International Competition for High School A Cappella and recorded tracks available for download on iTunes. Unplugged also hosts coffee houses annually and donates proceeds to local and national charities.

Childers said her love for music and community fueled her desire to launch an a cappella group at La Plata, with a goal of helping students serve others through music. “My interest in a cappella began in college where I founded the University of Maryland Treblemakers, an all-female group still in existence today. Unplugged is truly a labor of love for me, and I am so proud of their accomplishments. I am a believer in the power of music to change the world, and consider myself lucky to have had this opportunity,” Childers said.

Prior to teaching at La Plata, Childers taught English at Maurice J. McDonough High School, Mattawoman and General Smallwood middle schools. She earned National Board Certification in 2006 and has served as an English department chair for most of her teaching career. She also takes the time to mentor new teachers, presents at countywide professional development sessions and helps to write curriculum.

Childers shares the credit of her award with all of her teaching colleagues. “I am deeply honored to be selected as Charles County Teacher of the Year on behalf of all the great teachers in our school system. They stay late, come in early, take work home, come back for school events, and do their very best to meet their students’ needs,” Childers said.

As the Charles County Teacher of the Year, Childers will be honored by the Board of Education at its June 13 meeting. Also in June, the Maryland State Department of Education will select Teacher of the Year finalists from local honorees. The Maryland Teacher of the Year Awards Gala is set for Oct. 27.