A lesson in dedication

Lange Middle School educator named Outstanding Teacher of the Year.
Friday, April 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:40 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Michele Sterrett used the words “inquisitive, passionate and vibrant” to describe herself when interviewed as a finalist for an award from the Missouri State Teachers Association

People around Sterrett, a language arts teacher at Lange Middle School in Columbia, would add “devoted” to the list. That quality is a main reason she was chosen as an Outstanding Teacher of the Year from the association’s northeast region, one of the judges said.

Joan Snodgrass, president of the Northeast Executive Committee, interviewed Sterrett for the award and said Sterrett was the obvious choice as the winner.

“You could just see the dedication, devotion and love she had for her profession,” Snodgrass said. “She just beamed when she talked about her job.”

“Michele is just an incredible teacher — very skilled, caring and perceptive,” said Tom Schlimpert, principal at Lange. “She gives unyieldingly, and I would say she is truly a fervent leader.”

The association is a statewide professional teachers’ organization made up of local branches. The association gives the Teacher of the Year award to three teachers from the elementary, middle and high school levels from northeast Missouri, which includes 24 counties. Winners receive $500, and the local teacher branch gets $50.

Last year, Sterrett was recognized by the Columbia Community Teachers Association as an outstanding teacher and was nominated and encouraged by the group to compete at the state level.

“I was so excited and surprised to find out,” Sterrett said, who was told about the award Thursday morning when her students and colleagues threw her a small party. “It is a truly humbling experience to win this award since I work with such wonderful, experienced educators.”

Sterrett’s students also recognize their teacher’s dedication. Ariel Clayton is in Sterrett’s sixth-grade class and said Sterrett never hesitates to help them.

“My favorite thing about her is the way she reads to us,” said Ariel. “She does all the different kinds of voices, and that makes the book better.”

Sarah Mohr, who has been Sterrett’s student teacher for the past month, said Sterrett is a model of excellent teaching in her care for students and her willingness to help colleagues.

“I think Michele’s most standout characteristic is her dedication to her students,” Mohr said. “I’m astounded by how much work she does. She’ll stay at school until 7:30 to 8:30 at night, and then take home a bag full of papers to make sure every student’s work gets the attention it needs.”

Sterrett has taught at Lange Middle School for six years and previously taught in Moberly. She has two adult children and has been married for 27 years. She said this award is both an honor and a challenge to do better.

“I think knowing that you have been recognized for something raises the bar,” Sterrett said. “It’s a wonderful celebration, but also a tremendous responsibility.”

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