2011-10-06 / News

Island music instructor named Teacher of the Year

BY MARGO SULLIVAN


Marilyn Hostetler was named Jamestown’s Teacher of the Year. Hostetler is a music instructor who works at both Lawn and Melrose Avenue schools. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREA VON HOHELEITEN Marilyn Hostetler was named Jamestown’s Teacher of the Year. Hostetler is a music instructor who works at both Lawn and Melrose Avenue schools. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREA VON HOHELEITEN For the first time, the Jamestown school district has named a top teacher.

Marilyn Hostetler, a music instructor who works at both the Melrose and Lawn Avenue schools, is Jamestown’s Teacher of the Year.

Hostetler was nominated by other teachers, according to Lawn Avenue School Principal Kathy Almanzor. Then a committee, comprised by Superintendent Marcia Lukon, Almanzor, Melrose Avenue School Principal Carole Melucci, and fourthgrade teacher Charlene Tuttle, reviewed the nominations and made the selection. Tuttle participated because she won last year’s state Eisenhower Award for elementary science instruction, Almanzor said, and next year Hostetler will be invited to help the panel choose the 2013 Jamestown Teacher of the Year.

“We had never done Teacher of the Year,” Almanzor said, but Lukon asked the staff to suggest candidates per a request from state education Commissioner Deborah Gist.

Hostetler, 56, said five Jamestown teachers were nominated for the honor, which she called “a humbling experience” because it comes from colleagues she respected.

Hostetler learned about the committee’s decision in September. Two staff members informed her she had been nominated and asked her to complete a detailed state application more than 20 pages long. She did not know specifically why she was selected but thought her involvement in a number of school policy committees might have been a factor.

“It all happened last month,” she said, “and it was a pretty fast turnaround.”

Hostetler has logged 29 years in the classroom, 22 of them in Jamestown, she said. She started teaching in 1977 but took time off to raise her children and earn a master’s degree. She is also an expert on good teaching, handling the district’s professional development.

Hostetler said she can tell a great teacher because of the classroom atmosphere, which feels almost like electricity in the air, as students and teachers are wrapped up in the discussions. “If it’s done right,” she said, “every answer should lead to a new question.”

Ironically, teaching was not the career she originally wanted. She credits her parents, Robert and Winifred Sullivan of Portsmouth, for instilling her passion for education. Neither had attended college, but both made certain their children received an education, she said. Hostetler has a brother, Michael, and two sisters, including one who teaches preschool in Jamestown, and is known to children as “Miss Peggy.”

Hostetler is married to her high school sweetheart, Dean Hostetler. They met at Middletown High where they both participated in music. He played with the band. She sang and played piano.

“It was really my parents that motivated me,” she said. “To them, education was everything.” Hostetler added that teaching ranked as “the highest thing you could possible do.”

Hostetler, who majored in music education at Rhode Island College, said as a college student she relished the music studies, but not the classroom side. She didn’t enjoy student teaching and had hoped to land a position as a choir director. But with jobs in short supply, she accepted a position as the Limestone, Maine, music teacher.

“My first day on the job I fell in love with it,” she said.

She continued, “I fell in love with kids, with the whole feeling you have when kids get it. That is addictive. It’s an adrenalin high; teachers babble about it.”

But she didn’t like the amount of snow that dropped on Maine. “It started snowing early September, and it would still be snowing in May,” she said. She decided on a Mother’s Day, in the thick of a snowstorm, to move after she called her family in Middletown and heard her parents were “cleaning the pool.”

Hostetler went south, but initially only so far as Peterborough, N.H. She ultimately left the Granite State to get married. Her first Rhode Island job was in South Kingstown, she said. She also taught in Newport before landing the Jamestown position.

Hostetler went back to school after a couple of years on the job, she said, because she wanted to learn better ways to deal with children’s behavior.

“We had basic psychology,” she said, but the information didn’t help her understand “what makes kids tick.” She went back for a master’s degree in counseling and also took time off for family.

Her middle daughter was born “profoundly deaf,” she said, and she feels lucky her sister’s preschool education experience helped spot the problem early. Her daughter started nursery school at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf and later transferred to the Portsmouth public school system. Now 27 and employed in high technology, she has earned an undergraduate degree and is in the process of earning a master’s degrees. All her children played soccer, Hostetler said, and excelled in school.

It’s not the case for everyone, she said, but for her, having children made her a better teacher. She grew in empathy, she said.

Hostetler said her husband, a marine response specialist, has supported her, doing everything from handing out ties to the young men who forgot the proper attire for concert, taking videos of performances, or just being there for their own children when she had to work.

Hostetler said everyone at school has congratulated her for the Teacher of the Year recognition.

“Wow,” she said. “Everyone’s been so supportive.”

Gist, according to her office’s spokesman Elliot Krieger, has urged every district to participate in the special honor for teachers, which is part of a nationwide program to celebrate excellence.

The district Teacher of the Year automatically becomes a candidate for the state’s top teacher, Krieger said. Rhode Island has chosen a state Teacher of the Year “for many years,” Krieger said, and that teacher goes on to be considered in the nationwide selection for Teacher of the Year. Rhode Island has had success on the national level.

In 2004, Rhode Island Teacher of the Year Kathleen Mellor was picked as national Teacher of the Year.

“The Teacher of the Year,” according to Gist, “attends a White House recognition ceremony in the Rose Garden and will have a wonderful opportunity to serve as an ambassador for the teaching profession at many public events across the state and even across the nation.” Gist also called the award “the most widely recognized and prestigious” prize for teachers and said her goal was to have every district choose a Teacher of the Year.

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