For some teachers, the desire to shape the learning experiences of children comes later in life, and is often a second career choice. For Westlake High School's Crystal Harney, teaching began as a stepping stone of sorts. After graduating from college with a chemistry degree, she began her career as a laboratory technician. At the same time, Harney was also offered an adjunct teaching opportunity at Rochester College. Her teaching experiences there showed her that using a fresh and enthusiastic approach could allow her to reach all types of learners, especially those who were uninterested in learning about science.
As her students demonstrated a confidence and willingness to learn, Harney said she was inspired to pursue a teaching career full time. Harney professes a love for helping students break down the walls of learning to build knowledge, and believes in “you get what you give.” As a mathematics teacher at Westlake, she gives her students her all and shows a strong commitment to their success daily. Her passion, high expectations for academic and personal success and her ability to ignite in her students a love for mathematics are just a few reasons why Harney was selected as the 2013 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher of the Year for Charles County.
Since 2007, Harney has taught several math courses at Westlake, including algebra, algebra II and remedial algebra. She consistently teaches inclusion and remediation courses and has the ability to differentiate her lesson plans in order to teach math concepts in a variety of ways to a variety of learners. Westlake Principal Chrystal Benson said Harney strives to build and foster positive relationships with all of her students. “Her students excel under her instruction. Students often say that time flies in Ms. Harney's class because she always finds a way to make math interesting. She encourages and fosters the talents and interests of Westlake's students,” Benson wrote in a nomination letter.
Harney said she is humbled to be recognized for doing something she loves. “I enjoy the symbiotic and dynamic relationship that teaching gives, because even though I am the teacher, I am constantly learning. My students and colleagues push me so that I don't become stagnant, thus continually igniting my passion for teaching. It is truly an honor to be recognized by my peers and colleagues for doing what I intrinsically love to do… break down the walls and build up trees of knowledge,” Harney said.
Several Westlake students who had Harney as their teacher during their first or second year in high school said that they carried concepts and values learned in her class with them as they advanced through school. “I remember in ninth grade Ms. Harney told me 'math builds.' To this day I carry that with me. I've often had teachers who don't connect with their students individually, but she does. Not only has she taught me to excel in math but in all of my subjects,” Westlake senior Jayla Briscoe wrote in a nomination letter.
Dion Anderson, Westlake senior and president of the Charles County Association of Student Councils, said Harney was his math teacher during his freshman year, and has been one of his most important high school mentors. “She is a team leader, encourager, actor, character builder and role model. These words come to mind when I think of Ms. Harney. She motivated me each day of my ninth grade year and still does,” Anderson wrote in a nomination letter.
Anderson is not the only student that sees Harney as a mentor. She is well known among the student body as a role model. She goes out of her way to help students who need academic assistance, but also strives to continue positive relationships formed in her classroom with upper classman. Students often seek her out when they are in need of advice or support.
Harney's passion for student achievement is also admired by her colleagues. She is well known among Westlake teachers for her ability to connect with her students. She is often the first teacher to greet students and staff each morning, and always displays a smile and exudes an infectious laughter. Harney also makes it a point to share her knowledge and skills with her fellow teachers.
“She is a humble and approachable person who loves to share her extensive knowledge about teaching with others. What makes Westlake High School a community are people like Crystal Harney. She has been there for me countless times when I needed advice, professionally, as well as personally,” said Zohra Cherif, a social studies teacher at Westlake, in an award nomination letter.
Harney said for her, it is important that she gets back what she gives. “I govern myself by several quotes in life, one being 'You get what you give.' Because students feed off their environment, it is imperative that you are putting out what you want to receive. I foster an encouraging and open environment so that my students feel empowered and confident. They adopt my fearlessness and become more receptive and engaged in the classroom,” Harney said.
Harney earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from Michigan State University and her master's degree in chemistry, with mathematics minor, from Oakland University. The Post will honor her during a reception later this spring. Harney will be recognized by the Board of Education at their June meeting.
The goals of the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award, which is sponsored by the Washington Post Company Educational Foundation, are to recognize excellence in teaching, to encourage creative and quality instruction, and to contribute in a substantive way to the improvement of education. Agnes Meyer was the wife of Eugene Meyer, who purchased the Post in 1933 and was an advocate for public education.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,700 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 35 caring community schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.