DeLalio Elementary School third grade teacher Kara Fernandez was named 2018 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year, May 19.
For Fernandez the recognition came as a surprise, but is an opportunity for her to share her passion for teaching with others.
“One of the my favorite parts about teaching is the continuous learning that takes place for both myself and my students. Education is constantly changing. Standards change, materials change, as do the students I teach,” said Fernandez. “Modeling for my students how I continue to learn and grow helps them to see how education is not limited to a person’s time in school. The most enjoyable part of teaching is igniting a passion in my students to question the world around them and explore their potential to positively impact it. I want my students to recognize the importance of the learning process and what they are learning. I want them to know that they have the potential to shape, change and mold the world around them.”
Beyond being a third grade teacher, Fernandez is also the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math teacher for DES, bringing events like the Global Cardboard Challenge and Invention Convention to the school to challenge students in those subject areas.
The inclusion of special learning opportunities to students is one of the things she hopes to be able to share with other educators within DoDEA as Teacher of the Year, turning the focus of education from fixing what is wrong, to growing what is right.
“From my perspective, there are numerous inspiring and exciting things happening in education that need to be shared,” said Fernandez. “As the DoDEA Teacher Of the Year I get to be a representative for all of the educators who love what they do and for what’s right in education.”
The road to being named Mid-Atlantic Teacher of the Year has been a long process, said Fernandez, falling into a similar level of difficulty as earning her master’s degree.
Eight teachers were named District Teacher of the Year for 2018 and then invited to apply for the DoDEA Teacher of the Year.
“Each phase of the application process has required me to look critically into my past, present and even future teaching practices,” said Fernandez. “One of the most interesting things I noticed through the application process is how much my capabilities as an educator have evolved and grown over the course of my teaching career. The Teacher of the Year process has reminded me that what I teach today can improve tomorrow.”
Fernandez stresses to students they too have the capability of making major changes in the world, a quality of her teaching that helped her reach the final stage of the award process.
According to Thomas Brady, director of DoDEA, who delivered the news of the award to Fernandez, her willingness to challenge not only her students, but herself as well, beyond traditional teaching methods are positive qualities that propelled her to success.
“Ms. Fernandez brings a wealth of knowledge and energy to her teaching, infusing technology and STEM-related activities into all of her lessons,” said Brady. “Ms. Fernandez grew up as a military-connected child and she brings an understanding of the resiliency DoDEA students bring to the classroom. Risk-taking is an essential component of learning in her classroom, knowing that failure is a part of learning. One of her belief statements is that she wants her students to ‘fail their way to success’ as a way of building perseverance.”
Brady went on to explain that Fernandez’s teaching philosophy, which is grounded in hands-on design thinking and problem solving opportunities, makes, “DoDEA (is) extremely fortunate to have her in the classroom.”
Fernandez said she hopes to be a spokesperson for DoDEA, bringing her innovative, out-of-the-box teaching strategies to other educators.
“I understand that my words, actions and message will represent a wonderful organization that I believe very strongly in,” said Fernandez. “Military-connected kids face unique challenges that take special and dedicated teachers to help meet. I am proud to be DoDEA’s Teacher of the Year and realize the great responsibility that comes with this honor.
I will work hard to forge meaningful partnerships through collaboration with the other teachers of the year in order to have the greatest potential impact on students’ achievement.”
Fernandez has earned a spot in the running for National Teacher of the Year, and will be recognized at the White House.
A finalist will be selected in December 2018.
Fernandez earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education and Special Education from Towson University and went on to earn a Master’s of Education with a Specialization in Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment from Walden University.
She is an award-winning National Board Certified Teacher. She has helped establish programs in her schools including Girls on the Run, Global Cardboard Challenge, Science Olympiad and the STEM Carnival. In addition to being selected as the 2018 DoDEA Teacher of the Year, Fernandez is also in the running as a finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.