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Friday, Mar 27, 2015

Hernando's Teacher of the Year elevates his students


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SPRING HILL - John Imhof could never have done this in New York.

The pay and benefits would be better, as they were during the four-and-a-half years he taught high school history there, but in Florida there is a general sense of respect and a rapport for the profession that often transcends monetary rewards, he said.

Without that Imhof, who was named Hernando County's Teacher of the Year on Saturday, said he wouldn't teach U.S. history at Springstead High School going on seven years now, spend three hours daily grading papers to prepare students for their advanced placement exams, or spend all summer drafting coursework for an upcoming school year.

Not only does he enjoy teaching but he's good at it: Nearly all of Imhof's students pass their AP exams, compared to about half of the nation's U.S. history students. About half of his students receive the highest scores on those exams, compared to about 11 percent nationally.

"That's always how I gauge myself," he said. "I always like to see how many students I can get in that top tier."

But so do a lot of other Hernando County educators, Imhof said. That's why he was surprised to win Teacher of the Year, which comes with $1,000 and a three-day cruise.

"I was completely shocked," Imhof said. "When you go through the process and talk to teachers, there is definitely a lot of highly-qualified, intelligent teachers in Hernando County - a lot of passionate teachers who love and are good at their job, so I was totally shocked."

The personal fulfillment far outweighs the dollar, Imhof said.

Professionally, Imhof said, the Teacher of the Year award is hovering somewhere around the top of his list of accomplishments so far, albeit still with the potential to go higher.

Now that the district round is over, the state competition begins. All 67 district winners across the state will submit three letters of recommendation, including a letter of approval from their superintendent, as well as spoken and written responses regarding their direction and philosophies on education.

Five finalists will be selected in July and given $5,000 a piece. Shortly afterward, one of them will be selected as the state Teacher of the Year, given $10,000, and allowed a one-year leave-of-absence as liaison to the Florida Department of Education.

Though the students who nominated Imhof want him to receive his due, they also want history teachers like him to stay in the classroom.

"He not only makes learning the material fun, but will fully explain it, and go out of his way to make sure you learn it," said junior dual-enrollment student, Victoria McCabe. "By far the best history teacher I've ever had."

Imhof has a way of relating to students, said junior Annie McGrath. He creates a learning atmosphere that is disarming, open, relaxed, and engaging, she said.

"We get along with him," she said. "I think that's why we learn so well."

Imhof encourages learning by inviting open responses, answers, and questions, said junior Kylie Ciucci.

"He is always willing to work with you," she said. "He makes you feel comfortable in class to ask questions, and not make you feel bad if you get it wrong."

AP history student, Brandon Geiger, said Imhof stands out as the best teacher he's ever had.

"He takes history and brings it back to life," said Geiger, particularly with demonstrations and the use of visuals. "That really helps the students learn the material."

And he is a fair grader who, after reinforcing information through repetition and engaging lessons, gives students a sense of confidence when it comes time to take their AP exams, said junior Raven Bourne.

"You know you've learned it when you go into the test," she said.

On the wall of Imhof's classroom is a student "Wall of Fame," recognizing students who score in the middle to upper percentile on their AP placement exams.

"Students always say their goal is to get on that wall," Imhof said. "Advanced placement is extremely competitive, and being a standardized test you're competing with students globally, and that becomes my motivation on a daily basis."

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