What makes a good teacher? Is it creative lessons, how they work with students or their lasting impact?
Readers of Baltimore Style, our sister publication, praised the teachers profiled on the following pages in the magazine’s 2021 Readers’ Choice poll (read the Winter 2022 issue at baltimorestyle.com). Learn more about some of our area’s most dynamic educators.
Kevin Ford | Calvert Hall College High School
Kevin Ford taught in Baltimore City through Teach for America for two years before coming to Calvert Hall College High School’s English department, where he’s been for nine years.
The lessons he brought to Calvert Hall about meeting students where they are were invaluable, he says.
“If you’re making a choice to accommodate, work (and) sacrifice your time for the benefit of students who need you, you’re really helping everybody,” Ford says.
Among his strengths in teaching is putting curriculum into a real-world context.
“There comes a point, especially as students get older, where they wonder, ‘Why am I studying poetry?’ What does a short story have to do with my life?’” Ford says.
He teaches “The Iliad” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” together to examine the impact of war on human beings. His approach allows students to make sense of circumstances they might one day confront, such as an individual’s inhumanity to others, he explains.
A proud moment for Ford occurred when a student’s term paper united the student’s personal identity and family experience with literature skills taught in the classroom. He could see the student’s excitement.
Ford also sees the importance in students seeing teachers in the “real world”—not just in the classroom.
He shows up at student activities. His colleague Samantha Snyder says he always asks students about their extracurriculars when they come to the English office.
“It is easy to see that he knows his students as individuals, and he cares for their entire person,” she says. “Students feel comfortable turning to Kevin because they feel understood and appreciated, which is a core mission of our teaching in Catholic education.”
Christian Leitch | Notre Dame Preparatory School
Christian Leitch welcomes her middle school art students with instrumental music. Creating a nurturing environment is one way she encourages students to build confidence in their art and themselves.
“Middle school is a tough time,” she says. “I want them to come into art and be able to
express themselves, not be afraid to share their work with one another and share who they are as individuals.”
Leitch started her 22-year teaching career at Notre Dame Preparatory right after college,
having attended the school from eighth grade through high school.
Her goal is to help students gain confidence by fostering their interests through art.
“The works of art support the students’ story and things that they love about themselves,” she says. It could be sports, campus ministry or other school activities they are building an interest in and want to keep exploring in high school.
A proud moment for Leitch was when she could see a sixth grade student’s growing confidence in art translate to a growing confidence in leadership and school activities.
Maria Boote, a colleague in the middle level language department, attributes these changes to Leitch.
“She sees something in our students, spends time with them, encourages them and, ultimately, they see it in themselves,” Boote says.
Boote says by the time the students reach high school they are more compassionate, too. Leitch encourages students to learn the stories behind the art before passing judgment.
As an eighth grade advisor and moderator of the Middle Made Design Challenge and Fashion Show—where students submit and create designs out of recyclable materials—Leitch also ensures students know they have her support.
She’s always in the audience throwing up a heart with their hands and cheering them on. This support carries over to
colleagues as well.
“You won’t find a better listener or a more loyal friend,” Boote says.
Tom Peri | Notre Dame Preparatory School
In Tom Peri’s 40-year career in Catholic education, he’s taught all boys, co-ed classes and all girls—and the latter might be the most rewarding, he says.
His ninth grade biology students at the all-girls Notre Dame Preparatory School are eager to learn, easily offer feedback and make some great jokes in class.
“I always think when you understand something well enough to make a joke in it that you really do get it,” Peri says. “When I’m grading the lab reports at home, I’m laughing out loud.”
He teaches ninth grade so that he can get students excited about science at a young age. One way he does this is by letting students perform—acting out the biological process of meiosis as a way to visualize it.
Their enthusiasm rubs off on him as well.
When he was nervous about creating a new lab from scratch, one student’s comment of “well, that makes it even cooler” energized him and other students.
They felt like they were paving the way for future classes.
Peri realized one of his comments had great impact on a student as well. She was surprised how well she did on a test, and his response of “I’m not” was one she remembered years later.
Notre Dame Preparatory math teacher Bridget Sheehey knows Peri through church and school, and he also taught both of her daughters.
“He is someone who stands up for what he believes in and is always willing to learn and embrace something new,” she says. “Most importantly, he takes an interest in each and every one of his students and, as my girls have experienced firsthand, Tom remembers them long after they have left his classroom.”
Meghan Diven | Essex Elementary School
First grade teacher Meghan Diven strives to always make her students feel at home.
After seven years teaching for Baltimore County Public Schools, her dedication to students has not gone unnoticed, from her involvement on the PTA and after-school clubs to her personal attention to student success.
She recalls one student who hated doing schoolwork and always had to leave the classroom for bad behavior.
“I started to feel very defeated but didn’t want to give up on him,” Diven says. “I met with our school counselor and his family, and we came up with many plans to get his spirits up. I would spend my lunches eating lunch with him and getting to know him.”
She takes care to meet students’ families and keep in touch as well. She is there for them in the hard times—
the loss of an 8-year-old student—and the good times—singing and dancing every day and annual field trips to
local attractions such as Irvine Nature Center and the National Aquarium.
“She has the most caring heart and truly builds a family within her classroom each year,” says her principal, Brooke
Wagner. “She treats everyone with kindness and respect.”
Diven also embraced new COVID-19 pandemic learning styles with open arms, arranging a virtual talent show last year with one-minute video clips and virtual hosts.
Wagner says she is lucky to have Diven on staff. “Her lessons are engaging for her students who strive to please her and make her proud!” Wagner says.