Hamlin 'pays it forward' at Holcomb High School
Editor's note:This is the fifth in a six-part series profiling the six finalists for this year's Crystal Apple teacher awards.
BY RACHAEL GRAY
Emily Hamlin's motto is to "pay it forward."
The Holcomb High School English teacher said she owes her success in high school to a handful of teachers who helped her navigate the academic, athletic and social aspects of high school.
Now, to pay it forward, Hamlin is doing the same.
The HHS teacher is in her seventh year with USD 363 and eighth year teaching overall. She taught one year at Shawnee Heights High School outside of Topeka.
Hamlin is one of six finalists for the Crystal Apple Award, an award given annually to Finney County's top educators. The C.A.R.E. Task Force of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce announced the 2012 finalists last month. C.A.R.E. stands for Community Awareness and Recognition in Education.
The top three finalists will be named as the 2012 Crystal Apple Teachers of Finney County at a banquet Thursday at the Clarion Inn, 1911 E. Kansas Ave. The winners will receive an engraved crystal apple, $1,000 cash award and other prizes. The other three finalists will be presented with a cash award of $250. Other finalists are Rod Willis, Buffalo Jones Elementary School; Adam Cassellius, Garden City High School; Andrea Baker, Garfield Early Childhood Center; Diane Smith, Buffalo Jones; and Debbie Adler, Jennie Barker Elementary School.
Hamlin graduated from Garden City High School then attended Independence Community College, earned a bachelor's degree at Emporia State University and now is working toward a master's degree in counseling through Newman University. She also has an English Language Learner endorsement from Newman University.
What brought Hamlin back to the area was the chance to live closer to family and work with a good teaching staff.
"I couldn't pass up coming back to work with these exceptional people and being with my family again," she said.
Hamlin completed her student teaching at Holcomb.
Hamlin hopes that with her counseling degree, she can help students even further.
"After teaching for seven years, I have realized there's so much more I can do through counseling. It's not just about building interpersonal relationships, but also about helping them get ready for college and helping them navigate the teen years and early years after high school," she said.
She hopes to help shape students into productive workers and citizens. "I have talked to adults in the business world and community and have heard them say, 'Our new employees can't do this, or can't do that.' I think we need more opportunities to meet with business leaders and ask them what they are seeing and what we can be doing. We want our kids to be successful," she said.
Hamlin said No Child Left Behind had pressured teachers into teaching to a test and not real life.
"There's so much more out there I wish they could learn and experience. We are so caught up on test scores because we have to be," she said.
Hamlin said Common Core Standards will help students be more well-rounded, and it's the kind of curriculum she likes to teach.
"I've always been teaching these standards. I am glad to see more focus on writing. For so long, it was only about reading. These students need to be able to write for their rÃ©sumÃ©s and scholarship applications so those are clear and concise. Common Core is going to allow for that. I feel like it's such a progressive step. We've already been doing this, but now we're able to hit more on it. I feel like I'm getting my own lesson planning back," she said.
In Hamlin's classes, she tries to relate classic literature to everyday situations, or popular music, TV shows or movies. Hamlin said that holds the students' attention and helps them relate to the classic pieces.
"I want to get to know my students, and I want to know that their interests are. We as teachers need to get students to buy into life-long learning," she said.
Hamlin also promotes students being involved in community service.
"I want kids to realize they should have a passion," she said.
Each year, Hamlin takes students to "senior prom," where the students wear their prom dresses and tuxedos and go visit seniors. They also have a teddy bear drive for the American Red Cross.
"I love for them to see what their efforts do for other people. That's my reward," she said.
She wants educators and community members to realize children are assets to the future.
"Children are our most valuable asset. In this political storm, we have got to remember that we need to educate these kids. I'm going to stay in it to pay it forward, to give them someone to come to talk. We just can't give up on all this," she said.
Hamlin lives in Garden City. She also is the cheerleading and dance coach and is a senior class sponsor at HHS.