WASHINGTON – At home every night, Maryland teacher Cathy Cerveny lists the names of her students and what they said in class that day. Then she sets her teaching agenda for the next day.
“If I think of them last, they need more attention,” said Cerveny, 47, the Maryland Teacher of the Year.
Her dedication and teaching skills have earned her a chance to talk shop Friday with President Clinton.
Cerveny and the winners from the 49 other states will meet at the White House with Clinton, Education Secretary Richard Riley and 40 college presidents to discuss teacher education.
The fifth-grade teacher at Ring Factory Elementary School in Bel Air, Md., was named teacher of the year last fall by a panel chosen by the state Department of Education.
At her meeting with the president, Cerveny said she will stress the need for teachers to be better prepared for the classroom.
In addition to the student teaching required at accredited college teaching programs, Cerveny thinks prospective teachers would benefit from extra time spent volunteering in classrooms.
Too often, she said, teachers lecture too much and don’t interact enough with students.
“We need to address our profession,” she said.
Cerveny has been doing just that since winning the award, meeting with many of the state’s principals and teachers to discuss improving all aspects of education.
She traveled to Texas in January, where she met with the nation’s other teachers of the year. There, the top 50 teachers traded techniques and planned education discussion workshops that took place this week, leading up to the White House visit.
After 25 years of giving advice to fellow teachers and students, she’ll give advice to the president.
“She’s a walking resource,” said Christine Moser, a third- grade teacher at Emerton Elementary School in Bel Air. Moser nominated Cerveny for Harford County Teacher of the Year last spring. Cerveny won the state title last fall after answering eight essay questions.
Moser said Cerveny is extremely organized, knowledgeable, energetic and generous with friendship and advice for students and teachers.
“I cannot remember her ever saying, `I’m sorry, I’m too busy,’ ” said Moser, who worked with Cerveny at Ring Factory from 1990-’94. “That generosity of spirit flows through everything she does.”
She has a unique rapport with her students, said David Bradley, of Fallston, Md., a student teacher who assists Cerveny in class.
Bradley said Cerveny treats her students like adults and lets them discuss issues among themselves, quite a feat for 10- and 11-year-olds.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more than to work with Cathy,” said Bradley, 31, a former stockbroker. “She just makes everything seem seamless.”
And Cerveny is fiercely loyal to her students.
As a fourth-grade teacher, she volunteered to take a handicapped child named Tommy Herman into her class when he was “mainstreamed” – switched from special education to regular classes.
Then, when no teacher stepped forward to take him the next year, she moved up to the fifth grade and taught him again.
“She just built his self-esteem up so much,” said Tommy’s mother, Patty.
Tommy nominated Cerveny for teacher of the year and spoke at the awards banquet last fall.
Cerveny said interacting with Tommy, who is legally blind and has a paralyzed tongue, was spiritually uplifting.
“It was sort of like being a born-again teacher,” she said. Tommy’s answers to her questions “had more depth than many of his classmates,” she added.
Cerveny said she doesn’t let her students use a disability as an excuse, and she practices what she teaches.
She grew up in Fairless Hills, Penn., the youngest daughter of a steel worker. She had difficulty paying attention in school, she said.
Later, as an adult, she was diagnosed with “attention deficit disorder,” the inability to focus on a task for a long period of time.
Cerveny’s fourth-grade teacher saw her struggling and tutored her before and after school. That teacher taught Cerveny that hard work can overcome any obstacle, even a disability, Cerveny said.
“She inspired me to go into teaching,” said Cerveny, who got her first teaching job in Wicomico County in 1971.
At Ring Factory, Cerveny teaches integrated language arts – a combination of spelling, reading and writing.
“When children come first in a school, I want to be part of it,” she said.
Now her fifth-graders at Ring Factory are busy transforming the classroom into colonial Boston.
Once Cerveny feels she’s “done her job” at the school, she said she plans to teach somewhere else.
But students at Ring Factory need not worry. “Right now,” she said, “I still have things to do here.” -30-