BAUMHOLDER, Germany - The news about Spencer Bean's selection as the recipient of the Department of Defense Education Activity's presidential award for excellence in math/science teaching this year was an honor for the math teacher, but it was also an unprecedented achievement for Baumholder Middle High School.
Bean's accomplishment gives Baumholder Middle High School the distinct honor of having won the award in back-to-back years.
"For a math and science teacher it is the highest honor that you can get. It's a pretty big deal," said Bean.
The award is presented every two years to secondary schools throughout the world. During the previous award eligibility cycle in 2010, Tim Kelly, also a math teacher at Baumholder Middle High School, was honored with the award.
"I was the recipient for the mathematics portion. There is a math and a science award given from each state, and I won the math portion for the Department of Defense Education Activity which is the umbrella organization that covers DoDDS," said Bean.
Although the award brings much honor and prestige to the recipient, Bean is quick to acknowledge that he could not have achieved this honor without the teamwork and collaboration with his colleagues in all three Baumholder schools.
"We have been very good at collaborating with each other, talking with each other. We include the Wetzel and Smith Elementary Schools. We have teachers from fifth and sixth grade that come up and have meetings with us to talk about math. We talk about the challenges that are happening in fifth-grade math, sixth-grade math, seventh grade and up through AP calculus. I teach AP calculus," said Bean.
Some of the ideas discussed in these meetings by Baumholder teachers have found their way off the installation and have spread throughout the Kaiserslautern district. "I know for a fact that some of the strategies we are using have been pushed to other areas in DoDEA as well," said Bean.
Giving credit where credit is due, Bean also applauds the entire faculty at the high school, and especially fellow presidential award winner Kelly. "He and I have worked together but it's not just us, it's a collaborative team effort. We've just been picked out as recipients of an award for the work of all of us. I think due credit goes to all of us," said Bean. Speaking specifically about Kelly, Bean said, "We're also good friends, so that helps. We can also critique each other very easily. If we don't agree on things, it's easy for us to disagree and because we have a good friendship and a good relationship. We understand each other."
Bean said he has also learned much from his fellow science, history and English teachers. "I have had a lot of ideas that have been triggered in my mind about what I am going to do with my classroom because of ideas that have been shared with me by those teachers and the things that they do in their classes. We have a great staff here and I really do think the kids are fortunate to be at this school," says Bean.
Bean's fellow educators were high-fiving each other and brimming with euphoric pride when they learned that a Baumholder teacher had again won a presidential award, but the down side to it all is that Bean will leave Baumholder and begin teaching at Ramstein in the fall.
"I've loved it here," he said, referring not only to teaching but to his involvement with school athletics. "I've coached in one European softball championship. We won two European basketball championships for the boys and we were runner up one year. I've loved the coaching and I've loved teaching here.
"When the drawdown was announced and things started happening, even as long as I've been here, I'm one of the low men on the totem pole as far as seniority goes, so I was nervous about what would happen and what the Army was going to do with Baumholder for the next several years. So instead of me waiting on the whims of DoDDS and where I was going to get sent, I decided to try and secure a job that was local," said Bean.
Ultimately, those who may benefit from Bean's presidential recognition will be the students who sit in future math classes throughout the country. "I think this is a great opportunity for me to open some doors that I may not have had opened before, such as working with other teachers who have received this award. Being able to work with and collaborating with those teachers and networking with them may help because I do have ideas of how math could be taught to help kids," said Bean.
He also hopes this award will add some muscle to other ideas of his dealing with problems within math education. "Before (the award) you feel like you're just one teacher, at one small school, out in the middle of nowhere and nobody is going to listen to you or your ideas.
"Getting an award like this can help your ideas and maybe add a bit more weight to them, whereas before I'd feel like there's nothing I could ever do to help anything. I'm hoping that maybe this will open up some opportunities for me to where that voice will have more of an effect, because I do have things that I think would help for math education," said Bean.