BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — Park Vista High School teacher Mary Monroe was in the middle of teaching her reading class and didn't know what to think this morning when a long procession of students, teachers television cameras and Superintendent Wayne Gent poured into her classroom holding a big bouquet of balloons.
"Everybody did a real good job of keeping it a secret from me," said Monroe, who was surprised with the announcement today that she had been named Palm Beach County's Teacher of the Year as part of the statewide Macy's/ Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year contest.
"I'm going to try my hardest to win it for the State of Florida," said a teary-eyed Monroe who will now go up against the teachers of the year for all the other Florida school districts for the statewide award. "I just want to thank my students who have inspired me for over 14 years."
Monroe, 59, said she works mostly teaching struggling reading students and started with the school district in 1998 at what was then called Jefferson Davis Middle School in Palm Springs. She has been at Park Vista for four years and her son, Mark Monroe, is in his first year as a teacher at his mom's old school, which is now called Palm Springs Middle School.
"I have a great mentor," Mark Monroe said as he watched his mother getting the award this morning.
Aside from teaching reading students, Monroe has also written three books in her spare time that tackle sensitive topics. She said her first book, Miracle at Monty Middle School, was inspired by her experiences when she started teaching middle school and deals with multicultural classrooms. Her second book, Krazy White Girl deals with a girl who cuts herself, and her latest book, Tagger, deals with the experiences of one of her former students who does graffiti.
"Each kid has been told all along that they are a failure," Monroe said of her life's work teaching students who are struggling to learn how to read at grade level. "You try to build them up so you can empower them."
Park Vista Principal Reggie Myers described Monroe as one of the most creative teachers he has ever worked with and as someone who doesn't really take the summer off. He said she spends the summer researching different methods and techniques for teaching her students and is in constant contact with him and his administrative staff at the high school with ideas during the summer.