BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Humanities Council has named a local educator the 2013 Humanities Educator of the Year.
Wayne Bell, an eighth grade English teacher at Mount Anthony Union Middle School, is the first Vermont middle school teacher to receive the Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award.
Created by the VHC in 2003, the annual award recognizes a Vermont educator in grades 6-12 who "exemplifies excellence in the teaching of the humanities," and honors Victor R. Swenson, the Council's first executive director.
Bell began teaching in the early 1970s, and has been teaching English at MAUMS for 13 years.
"I like to say that I teach English-Language Arts: Speaking, reading, writing, listening, and thinking," he said. "I tell my students that my class is the most important class they'll take -- without communications skills, ability to organize their thinking and writing, kids are going to have a really hard time, no matter what they do. My hope is that they'll walk out of here with the ability to learn how to learn. I want my students to be curious, but I want them to be in the habit of satisfying their own curiosity, to essentially be self-instructors."
John Cossa, a MAUMS teacher and colleague of Bell's for more than a decade, cited Bell's "honest humanity" and "deep knowledge of his subject area," as well as his innovative multimedia teaching methods and enthusiasm as ways Bell is able to continuously connect with his students.
"A teacher that has his students believing in themselves, really believing, is a true gift," he said. "He (Bell) truly embodies the highest commitment to service, growth, excellence, intellectual curiosity, and the value of personal creative expression."
MAUMS Principal Tim Payne, who has observed Bell's classroom a number of times, explained that Bell's teaching style is centered around engagement with his students, and that he frequently asks his students about what is going on outside of the classroom.
"Wayne and I have talked about the importance of relationship building," Payne said. "Middle schoolers live by impact. He creates a space where students feel comfortable sharing what's going on in their lives."
A team leader for Waterwheel, an after-school academic assistance program for individual student needs, and with several years of teaching summer school English under his belt, Bell is equally as involved in the greater community as he is in MAUMS.
Bell is also known for organizing a weekly Writers' Club and involving his students in local poetry slams and school-wide, annual Poet's Café nights.
According to Payne, Bell also writes weekly newsletters, which are distributed among MAUMS faculty and staff and cite various school events and student achievements.
"In the busyness of the work and school place, that's a really big plus," he said.
Additionally, Bell coordinates the MAUMS Caring Teachers Community Fund, which provides outreach to school community members who are celebrating or in need of condolence.
"Last year, we had a lot of tragedies among the staff and in the community," Payne said. "Wayne is always the first one to offer help. Those are the kinds of things that show not only students but faculty as well, the importance of contributing to the school community."
Bell will receive the award, along with a $1,000 check, on Nov. 16 during the VHC fall conference, "Music and the Human Experience," which will be held in the Grand Maple Ballroom of the University of Vermont's Dudley H. Davis Center in Burlington.
"We should celebrate our teachers -- not just me -- We should celebrate the profession," Bell said. "Teaching is extraordinarily hard work. While in some ways this work has been the most rewarding of all the work I've done, it's also the hardest and most frustrating, especially at this age. Middle school is kind of that last chance to grab kids and put them on a track that will hopefully give them a better life. I'm happy to do it."
For more information about the award visit the VHC website at vermonthumanities.org or call 802-262-2626.
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.