Mr. B and Ms. Torres are Dell City ISD Teachers of the Year
Congratulations to Clement Boakye and Karen Torres, Dell City ISD's Teachers of the Year!
A committee of Dell City educators selected the two teachers, and Principal Carlos A. Contreras made the announcement Monday, May 11. Boakye, Dell City's secondary math teacher, and Torres, the school's kinder and pre-K teacher, will join other standout educators from El Paso and Hudspeth counties in the running for regional and state Teacher of the Year. Both are in their first year at Dell City ISD, and both intend to stay on with the district.
Contreras said the two educators are distinguished by “the passion they bring to their craft,” and by the high expectations they hold for their students, and for themselves.
Boakye has years of teaching experience – in his native Ghana, in South Africa and at El Paso's Coronado High School – and a master's degree in his chosen subject of mathematics. Contreras said Boakye made an impact in Dell City right away – by being both demanding, and dedicated, to his students.
“He has high expectations for the kids,” Contreras said. “Kids might be used to going through the motions – but he held them to a higher standard. Eventually, the kids saw that he was doing it in their best interest, and they appreciate him for that.”
Boakye made himself available to tutor students both before and after the school day. And Contreras said Boakye's commitment to his students was evident beyond the classroom. He's been an intense fan of Cougar sports, and regularly traveled to cheer Dell City students on in away games. Contreras remembered one particular game that the school's co-ed middle-school football team played in Fort Hancock. After finishing their duties at the school, Boakye and fellow teacher Alethea Mata made the drive to Fort Hancock to support the team – even though they were only able to catch the last few minutes of the game.
“It's just nice when teachers are able to do those things,” Contreras said. “That's the human element he brought to the kids and the school.”
In addition to five math classes, Boakye taught college prep this year, and he plans to begin teaching dual-credit college courses, AP classes and higher-level mathematics at the Dell City School.
Torres also is a veteran educator, with almost 25 years of experience in schools in Texas and, more recently, Arizona. Yet her first year at the Dell City School was an adventure into new terrain. Torres was most familiar with older elementary and middle-school classrooms. This year she was working with the youngest students, and taking on the responsibility of teaching reading, writing and the other fundamentals.
Contreras said he was impressed by the way Torres embraced the challenge. She's opted to continue teaching pre-k and kinder classes next year.
“There's a lot to learn,” Contreras said, “and she is more than willing to learn it. She's open to change, and open to learning. I asked her if next year she wanted to teach upper levels, and she said, no – she loved being with these little kids.”
Contreras said Torres is able to strike the right balance – between being a rigorous teacher, and a supportive and nurturing presence for children.
“She's very patient with kids,” he said. “She showed them a lot of care and attention. She went by instinct, drawing from what she knows about how to be a teacher and how to be a mom. That translated to her kids being comfortable with her and in her class.”
As she took on the challenge of a new age group, and tackled the requirements of Texas schools, which are different from those in Arizona, Torres sometimes “got frustrated with herself,” Contreras said. But Contreras said that was a testament to how seriously she takes her job.
“When people are apathetic, when there's no emotion, that means they don't care,” he said. “For me, the fact that she was frustrated was a sign that she did care. And she cares about the right things, not trivial things. That's admirable.”
As part of the Teacher of the Year process, Torres and Boakye will write essays about their philosophy and approach. The regional Education Service Center traditionally holds a gala event for teachers of the year each summer – but with coronavirus restrictions in place, it's uncertain how that will unfold.
Torres said she was completely surprised to be selected.
“It caught me off guard,” she said, “and I'm not good with 'off-guard' things.” But she said she was honored to represent the district at the regional level.
And she said that being selected teacher of the year would give her a chance to connect with, and learn from, other educators.
“What I'm really excited about is being able to network,” she said, “and put faces to names. It will be a learning experience – like taking a class. It's really neat when you see what other teachers do, and see their enthusiasm – it spills over to you. I'm really looking forward to that.”
Torres noted that it had been “a heck of a year,” and that's she's concerned about gaps for students caused by the pandemic and school closure. But she said she also knows “that kids are resilient – way more than we give them credit for.”
She said she felt like she was just hitting her stride when school was closed, and that's she's looking forward to beginning the next year with experience under her belt.
Like Torres, Boakye said that, when it came to being selected teacher of the year, he “never saw it coming.”
“You do what you do,” he said, “and these are things you don't really think about. It's my first year at the district – maybe you'd think about something like this 10 years in. But when it comes, you just embrace it. It's always good when someone appreciates what you're doing.”
Boakye said his first year at Dell City ISD has been a challenging, and stimulating experience. He was accustomed to much larger classes, and he said while some might assume small classes would make teaching easier, it also has its challenges. Students can't be grouped into levels, to work with and learn from each other.
“I try to push them,” Boakye said of his Dell City students. “There were gaps, and we have a lot of work to do. But I think between when I first met them till now, the perspective has changed, the expectations have changed.”
And Boakye said his diverse experience has served him well. Boakye said that all the places in which he has taught or tutored – in Ghana, in South Africa, in Australia and in El Paso – have had “different kinds of students.” That's made him adaptive, and given him a reservoir of techniques to draw from.
Boakye has been one of the teachers to most enthusiastically embrace videoconferencing technology during the school closure. He conducts all six of his classes on Zoom each day, beginning at the usual times of the school schedule, and he follows up individually with students if they miss a Zoom call.
“The first day we started with Zoom, I barely knew what to do,” he said. “But I went to Walmart and bought a small board – and now when I do the Zoom call, they are able to see what I'm doing. It makes them feel they are in the classroom with you. They can ask questions. It's really working.
“There's a learning curve for us, and for the students,” he said. “But as a teacher, you always have to implement something new, and if something's not there, you have to create it. You have to be creative in every aspect.”
Boakye said he has been “really impressed” with what his students, and their parents, have been doing to continue the learning process during these difficult times.
Boakye said he is looking forward to strengthening math instruction at the Dell City School in the years to come. With students who are currently in his algebra 1 class, he plans to offer pre-calculus and AP calculus as they advance through the grades.
Thank you, Mr. B and Ms. Torres, our Teachers of the Year, for your hard work in the classroom, and for everything you've done and continue to do for Dell City students!