German Teacher Named Secondary Teacher of the Year

This article was published
in the November 2002 issue of
the LOTE CED Lowdown.
Billboard featuring picture of Denise Tanner

Denise Tanner, a German teacher from the Fort Bend Independent School District has been named the Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year for 2003. Denise, who teaches at Hightower High School, was chosen from a field of six finalists interviewed by a panel of judges chaired by State Board of Education member Cynthia Thornton. In addition, Denise was selected to be the Texas nominee for the National Teacher of the Year Award, which will be announced in April. Each candidate for this award will have an opportunity to visit with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush while attending the award ceremony in Washington, DC.

Commenting on the state awards, Commissioner of Education Felipe Alanis remarked, “The privilege of announcing the Texas Teachers of the Year is one of the highlights of being the commissioner of education. Educators like Mrs. McCuin (Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year) and Mrs. Tanner are wonderful examples of the human spirit who instill an intellectual curiosity in the students whose lives they touch. Mrs. McCuin and Mrs. Tanner are personal inspirations to me. I commend them both for the compassionate and enthusiastic service they bring to their classrooms and the marked difference they have made in the lives of so many children. Mrs. McCuin and Mrs. Tanner are representative of thousands of first-class Texas educators whose hard work and dedication make a tremendous difference in this state, and they have my profound appreciation.”

Denise, who had always wanted to become a teacher, received the encouragement she had yearned for in the 11th grade. “My English teacher was from England,” she recalls, “had lived in Greece for 10 years, spoke fluent Greek and, more importantly to me, had graduated eighth in her high school class. She showed me that one could have an interesting and varied life, be extremely intelligent, and therefore make an exemplary teacher.” Now Denise understands that “following your heart and realizing your dreams are more important than taking the path others expect you to follow.”

A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Denise has been teaching German for four years. “My students even know that I speak German to my parakeet,” she said. “I begin each school year by telling my students that I do not know everything, but that I can guide them through the material because I know how to learn… I believe this openness shows my students that learning can continue outside of the classroom and past the 12th grade.” Citing uniqueness of expression as the “hallmark of our younger society,” Denise says her goal as a teacher is to reach out to the students who seem to be slipping away due to social ostracism or disinterest in school. “In an attempt to make every student successful, we (educators) have lost sight of the two most important facts of all: each person is different and there are many types of success… It is the feeling of success which feeds productivity and satisfaction, not some predetermined, universal standard.”

Denise has been active professionally since she began teaching. She is the German Club and German National Honor Society sponsor for her school and has helped to write the Fort Bend ISD German I curriculum. Beyond her district, Denise participated in the LOTE CED’s Learning Scenarios Development Workshop and co-authored three standards-based thematic units included in the publication, Great TEKSpectations: Innovative Learning Scenarios for the LOTE Classroom. She is a member of the Texas Foreign Language Association (where she has presented) and the American Association of Teachers of German.

Along with her district and school, the LOTE CED wishes Denise hearty congratulations. We are thrilled that a foreign language teacher can represent us as Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year.