by Deborah Krat, NVWP Program Assistant
The Northern Virginia Writing Project is proud to share the news that Teacher Consultant Shea Finfrock has been named the Frederick County Public Schools Teacher of the Year for 2013. Finfrock accepted her award on Wednesday, August 22 at the Frederick County Public Schools Convocation at Millbrook High School. In the Frederick County Public Schools press release announcing Finfrock as Teacher of the Year, FCPS Superintendent David Sovine says, “Ms. Finfrock is a model for all teachers. She recognizes the importance of connecting with students in order to help them become successful. In addition, she is committed to professional growth and helping others in the teaching profession develop their skills. She understands the importance of engaging students in the learning process and the value of creating a student-centered classroom.”
Finfrock was accepted into the NVWP’s first Invitational Summer Institute in the Valley in 2005, and she returned as institute co-director in 2009. Her demonstration lesson with the NVWP is focused on teaching the Multigenre Research Paper. Finfrock graduated from Radford University with a Master of Arts degree in English and Education and a Bachelor of Science degree in English with a minor in Sociology. Finfrock moved to Frederick County to begin her teaching career at Millbrook High School in the 2002-2003 school year.
Finfrock discovered she wanted to teach while she was in college, and she extends a thank you to her professors who “opened up a world of education and an impressive breadth of knowledge” that helped her speak her mind and empower her students’ lives. In a feature article in The Winchester Star, Finfrock says, “I’m OK doing this the rest of my life. I’ll be in the classroom till I die. This is my place.” Finfrock has previously been recognized as a Walmart Teacher of the Year and the senior class at Millbrook High School has recognized her for three consecutive years as the school’s Most Inspirational Teacher. At Millbrook, Finfrock has written and delivered keynote speeches in 2012 for the first day of school (a tradition at Millbrook) and the Senior Awards Assembly. When nominated for Teacher of the Year, she said she was “pleasantly surprised.”
After being nominated, Finfrock had to write an essay reflecting her thoughts on becoming a teacher and educational issues that concerned her. In this essay, Finfrock says, “Professional development opportunities should offer teachers the chance to learn from another, to dialogue with their peers about best practices and teaching philosophy. Teachers need to brainstorm about new teaching methods and lessons, try them out in a classroom setting and then receive peer feedback with the chance to reflect on and revise their work, to truly be part of a learning community.”
The NVWP’s motto “Teachers Teaching Teachers” not only applies to Finfrock’s own successes as a teacher, but it also describes how her college professors helped her become a successful teacher. While teaching in graduate school, Finfrock took a course in the teaching of writing in order to sharpen her skills as an instructor. She went to a town near her college to work with one small class in creating a class magazine. She says of the experience, “Working with high school students was an entirely new experience for me, one I fell in love with almost instantly. My kids were college-able but not college-bound. The writing they produced was colorful, powerful and saturated with their country voices. They wrote with honesty that made me laugh and ripped my heart in two all at the same time. When my students felt pride in the work they created, when they wanted to share their stories with those they cared about because they had found their voice.” This was the turning point for her passionate teaching career.
Before working with the Writing Project, Finfrock felt what all teachers feel; that she may have had a difficult time letting go and giving her students too much freedom. Working with the Northern Virginia Writing Project for many years has allowed her to ask herself an important question: “What is best for my kids?” The Project taught her that students “also know what they need to learn; they need to make choices and take ownership of their work. They need to be allowed to be creative with writing, technology, and publication.” Not only did this realization apply to her students, but it allowed her to become a better teacher and writer again. She adds, “I forgot that as teachers, we need to practice what we preach to our students. If we think writing is important, then we should write.”
Her creative teaching methods have allowed many students to become better learners and better writers. Because of teachers like Shea Finfrock, students are willing to strive and excel for achievement and success beyond their academic career. For example, her seniors write a Senior Memory Book at the end of the year, which stems from daily writing workshops on everything from exploding moments in writing to using a multi-genre approach to writing. Mary Tedrow, co-director of the NVWP and coordinator of the NVWP satellite site in the Valley says, “Shea is a gifted educator whose strength is in forming productive relationships with her students. All the students have fond memories of their year with ‘Finny.’ The students frequently comment that Mrs. Finfrock shaped them into viewing themselves as writers.”
Shea Finfrock has not only been recognized as Teacher of the Year, but she has also been recognized as an inspiration for all teachers to continue growing and improving their education towards teaching in the classroom. For her, being a teacher is like being part of “one big club.” Some advice she gives to other teachers is to not get “bogged down by the little things; instead remember why you entered the profession and keep your focus there, on the kids. Be vocal and involved when it comes to your beliefs about the profession. We have a fight ahead of us if we are going to turn things around in the best interest of the students; stand up and be heard. Our kids are worth it.”
To Shea Finfrock from the Northern Virginia Writing Project, we extend congratulations on your success and the best for your future endeavors!
Frederick County Public Schools Press Release: http://www.frederick.k12.va.us/files/_fWJfb_/26d5dacce7a23b563745a49013852ec4/_372_FCPS_Names_2013_Teacher_of_the_Year.pdf
Winchester Star feature (subscription required): http://www.winchesterstar.com/articles/view/top_teacher_i_won_t_leave_classroom
All photos credit Ginger Perry of The Winchester Star