Alumni recognized for teaching excellence

December 10, 2012 | Jim Stewart

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by Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

They took different paths, but ultimately chose the same career.

Allison Harwood wanted to follow in the footsteps of the amazing teachers she had throughout her years at The Lovett School in Atlanta. Matt Casella went to graduate school, worked in the corporate world, and hiked the Appalachian Trail before realizing his desire to teach.

Both have now earned recognition for the highly effective teaching they have brought to their classrooms. Casella, a chemistry teacher at Travelers Rest (S.C.) High School, and Harwood, a third grade teacher at Lone Oak Elementary School in Spartanburg, S.C., have been named recipients of the 2012 Childers Education Foundation Teaching Excellence Award from Furman.

John Beckford, vice president for academic affairs and dean, and A. Scott Henderson, professor of education, presented the awards to the first-year teachers during a reception December 6 attended by family, friends, teachers and administrators.

 “The Teaching Excellence Award is a significant achievement for an elementary and secondary teacher candidate as they complete their preparation as prospective educators,” said Henderson, who also serves as director of program development and evaluation. “It is an acknowledgement of their dedication and commitment to the teaching profession, as well as the positive impact that they have already had on the lives of their own students."

A committee of Furman faculty, along with school administrators and mentor teachers who worked closely with the nominees for the award, used three main criteria in selecting the winners: love of content, love of teaching, and love of student.

“I’ve never had a job that I looked forward to this much,” said Casella. “It is a part of me and I work as hard as possible at it. I spend my free time thinking about ways that I could improve upon my practice, and when I’m teaching, I feel comfortable and content.”

Furman education professor Michael Svec said, “Matt has an excellent rapport with his students that he uses to hold them to high standards for their work. He has a world view that is shaped by science and wants students to not only understand the science content, but also experience and understand how scientists perceive the natural world.”

Hands-on, group learning is a hallmark of Harwood’s teaching. Her students studied how sediments are pressed together to make fossils by using Play-Doh casts and molds they made themselves. Her classroom library is full of books, many of which were written by her 19 third-graders.

“Because of her genuine enthusiasm for teaching, her thoughtful planning and implementation of her content, and most of all a warm, caring environment for her students, Allison’s classroom has continued to be a bright spot in the day of whomever visits her,” said Dawn Mitchell, one of Harwood’s mentors.

The $1,500 Childers Award was established in 2009 by Alfred G. Childers ’80, a former member of the Furman board of trustees, and his wife, Marybeth Bunting Childers ’80, an accomplished student and teacher who majored in education and certified to teach in the elementary and early childhood grades.