Teacher Superlatives

Recently Apopka High School awarded 11 teachers with a superlative. Some examples are of having the most style or the best classroom. Of course, The Blue and White interviewed them about how they feel to receive this award and how they managed to obtain it. The teachers who won superlatives are Adam Walton, Charise Barnett, Wilmer Mellon, Matthew Houvouras, Dawson Shreiner, Jerry Russell, Brian Blevins, Paul Peters, Mark Shumate, Nicole Gardiner, and Sandra Shafer. 


First on our list is Mr. Walton who won Rookie Teacher of the Year. To win an award that significant, he used some impressive teaching techniques, “There are so many strategies that benefit students. I use high engagement in my classroom to keep students interested in the lessons. I also try to really know and understand my students so I can find the best strategies to help students absorb information. Each student is unique and I try to cater my lessons to meet their needs,” Mr Walton said. When asked whether he deserved the award Mr. Walton answered, “Nope! I feel I work among the greatest professional teachers in the business! That said, it is absolutely humbling and such an honor to be recognized by students!” Apopka indeed has some amazing teachers. 


Next on our list is Mr. Blevins, who won Most Likely to Win Jeopardy. The ability to recall facts about such a wide variety of subjects is something that only some people can accomplish. “I imagine it has to do with being voted Most Likely to Be on Jeopardy, which was funny and flattering. I actually envisioned doing that one day in the bloom of my prime, but the synapse firing has slowed to the point now that others would be wrapping up their answers as I was trying to remember what I did with the buzzer.” Of course you have to purposefully pursue that to stay at a competitive level. This must create little pockets of students who appreciate his impressive wealth of knowledge. “I’m not sure I’m quoted regularly, but I sometimes hear, or more correctly, am mocked by chants of ‘Be the shepherd, not the sheep!’ particularly from the Capstone students. I’m also pretty sure I invented the nomenclature of calling a friend ‘Huckleberry (an homage to Richard Lewis’ schtick on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) Explains Mr. Blevins, we are sure that all of his classes are comprised of shepherds.


Next, we have the teacher with The Most School Spirit, Mr. Peters. He is famous for having the craziest outfits on school spirit weeks or anything along those lines. “It would be hard to pick just one from over the years. My favorites have always included a white tutu and blue hairy legs,” sais Mr. Peters. Sounds like a spectacular scene. This dedication to outstanding outfits has to be fueled by something. Mr. Peters explains that it is, “For the love of being a Blue Darter. The fond memories of the many former students who embodied that school spirit when they attended here.” This is a great ideal, and there have been some crazy outfits from some of our students, as well.


Progressing down the line of amazing teachers, we have Ms. Barnett who won Best Laugh. Sometimes the situation and joke can lead to laughter that can’t be controlled, and we asked if this has ever happened to Ms. Barnett during class period. She answered, “I have definitely laughed that hard! I had two students who changed their voices and would only talk to me in that tone/voice. I don’t know if you are on the Jasper side of TikTok, but that is exactly how they sounded. I tried to be serious but couldn’t help but crack up laughing.” We then asked Ms Barnett if she is glad to have received this superlative, and she said, “It was a pleasant surprise! It felt good to know my students enjoy my laugh because I really treasure the time I spend with them.” Sometimes a good laugh sparks the laughter and not the actual joke.


Next on our impressive list is Mr. Houvouras, who won Best Classroom. Every display in his classroom has a crown jewel or a piece that calls the most attention. We asked Mr. Houvouras what he thinks is the most interesting thing in his class: “That’s a tough question. I have some great art from former students, fabrics from Africa, artifacts from Japan and Italy and flags from as many of our students’ ancestral homelands as I can. The coolest things are probably my family pictures or the Aang in Avatar State Funko Pop gifted to me by Kira Toxey.” These are all incredible things to have in a class and sure to testify of his art knowledge. Students have heritage from all sorts of backgrounds and being acknowledged by a teacher can make you feel good. Mr. Houvouras has flags from almost every nation hanging around. He explains, “The flag thing goes a few years back when I made a display of some artists. Students who shared heritage with those artists told me how much they liked seeing those flags when they came into my class so I made sure that it was a repeated motif.” Sounds like the place to be.


Now, we have Mr. Shumate who received The Best Style award. Style is hard to come by, yet comes naturally to certain people. This seems to be Mr. Shumate, whos sais, “I got my style from a multitude of influences and what I wear each day truly depends on my mood.  Sometimes I want to channel my inner sk8er boi, others I want to dress like somebody’s father in 1997 (which was the year I was born), and then sometimes I just find a random piece while thrifting and throw something together with it.” Dressing in a nice or approachable way while having the coolest style is difficult to say the least. “I don’t believe the way I dress necessarily helps my ability to teach content, however, I do think that it humanizes me in the eyes of my students. My goal as a younger teacher is to be approachable, relatable, and positively influential. My style allows me to express my authentic self and thus I naturally achieve the aforementioned goals,” He explains. 


On to Mr. Russell, who won The Best Quotes superlative. Usually teachers use quotes in class to help them remember certain topics that can be a bit bland. Mr. Russell has a lot of quotes for that. “I have quotes I give them to teach them things they need for their AP exams. The most popular quote for my history students is ‘Your thesis must be ugly like your ex-wife.’ It means  longer and more convoluted, rather than short and sweet so the AP reader grading their exams can hear them think, earning them the thesis point,” He explains. Another way to produce some great quotes is to have great stories, and Mr. Russell says, “I teach my AP Macroeconomics students ‘You have to throw your money down, to pick their money up.’ That helps them understand the intricacies of international currency exchange. I also tell them lots of stories about my life and I repeat stories, like ‘I’ve been rescued by the coast guard 3 times’ when I’m telling stories that involve sailing on the high seas, a favorite topic of mine.” The art of storytelling is hard and to captivate your audience you need to have some skills. “I grew up in church and my mother was a Pentecostal pastor, plus I’m southern and my redneck relatives weren’t much in the reading department, so all those factors worked together to make me a story teller, cause that’s what my peer group did to communicate,” Mr. Russell said. Just for some good measure Mr. Russell gave us some of his favorite quotes to think about. 

  • Napoleon – “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s in the middle of making a mistake.”
  • Martin Luther – “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
  • Marx – “Workers of the world unite.”
  • Churchill – “You have enemies? Good. It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
  • Thatcher – “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”
  • Reagan – “How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”

Lastly, we have Mrs. Gardiner who won Most Likely to Brighten Your Day. When we asked what are some of the things she does to do this she answered, “I try to smile as much as possible.  I’m like Buddy the Elf, smiling’s my favorite. More than that though, I try to remember things going on in their lives and I try to ask them about it. I want them to feel special.” A genuine smile always goes a long way, especially when the person is having a bad day. Positivity is a great trait to have because people tend to gravitate towards nicer feelings, “I think in general, I have gravitated towards happy people in all areas of my life. I can’t remember a teacher in my life like me, but maybe that’s why I am the way I am. I want to be the happy teacher, not the curmudgeonly one.” This has definitely paid off being that Mrs. Gardiner won this great award.

If your math is on point I’m sure you noticed that not all the teachers are present here. This is because some teachers did not respond to our interview request. Either way we appreciate them and appreciate the teachers who did take the time to answer our questions.