McDaniel alumna Michelle Shearer named National Teacher of the Year at White House Ceremony

May 01, 2011


Michelle Meredith Shearer M.S. ’96 knows that chemistry is everywhere, and believes that chemistry is for everybody. It is a philosophy that not only empowers her teaching – whether at the Maryland School for the Deaf or Urbana High School in Frederick County – but also helped her students from all backgrounds and abilities see themselves as scientists and gain recognition of this master teacher at the highest level. Shearer was named 2011 National Teacher by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on May 3, 2011.

See more photos from the event here.

Watch video from the event here.

“We are so proud of Michelle’s singular accomplishment and the light she shines on McDaniel’s 144-year tradition of teaching excellence, ” said President Roger Casey. “She’s a role model of a liberal artist and scientist who’s using her education to change lives.”

Valedictorian of her class at Brandywine High School in Delaware and a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, Shearer would no doubt have succeeded in anything she tried. But for as long as she can remember, she wanted to be a teacher. The question always was what, not if, she would teach.

She considered majoring in math but realized she enjoyed the hands-on aspects of chemistry even more. Besides, her father, 1966 McDaniel College alumnus Philip Meredith, earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at Duke and was a DuPont chemist until his retirement several years ago. Shearer’s mother, Beverly Meredith, was an elementary music teacher until her retirement.

Shearer, a teacher for 14 years, clearly relishes her role inspiring students to embrace the sciences. She taught chemistry at Urbana from 1997-2002, then taught chemistry and math at the Maryland School for the Deaf for four years. In 2006, she returned to Urbana and now teaches AP chemistry. Her carefully planned classes, which feature a packed agenda with lots of opportunities to experiment, are wildly popular, with 92 students registered this year. James Lipchock, class of 2004, who just earned his doctorate in chemistry at Yale, is one of her former students.

“You would be surprised at what students accomplish once they realize that chemistry is a part of their lives,” Shearer said.

Shearer, who is fluent in American Sign Language and earned a master’s in Deaf Education at McDaniel, doesn’t see hurdles. She only sees students. Almost without exception, student doubt gives way to confidence and success when Shearer flicks the switch and the light flashes on, according to her colleagues.

”At a time when our leaders, the media, and others are very concerned about students learning and achieving in STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, Michelle Shearer is our brightest light, our torch of hope in ensuring that all students can do science and math and must,” said Dr. Francis ‘Skip’ Fennell, professor of Education and past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Shearer’s husband George teaches physics at Urbana and they have a daughter, Carly, age 4. The National Teacher of the Year is released from classroom duties during the year of recognition to travel nationally and internationally as a spokesperson for the teaching profession.

Next time Shearer returns to McDaniel, President Casey will ask for the return of his good luck charm. The College’s newly elected president met Shearer for the first time Oct. 8 at the Maryland Teacher of the Year gala held in Baltimore and handed her an “I Am McDaniel” button for good luck. Within the hour, Shearer was named the state’s Top Teacher. She returned to campus a few weeks later for Homecoming proudly wearing the button, and again Shearer wore her button to a panel discussion on the future of American education held April 12 as part of the Casey’s Inauguration Celebration week. There, Casey made a prediction: “Wear the button,” and it would ensure her selection as the nation’s top teacher. He also made a request: after the May 3 ceremony at the White House, could Shearer please return that button so he could keep it for his own good luck!

The National Teacher of the Year Program began in 1952 and continues as the oldest, most prestigious national honors program that focuses public attention on excellence in teaching. A panel of educators, representing 14 national education organizations, chose the finalists from the 2011 state teachers of the year in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and four U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. The organizations represented on the 2011 National Selection Committee are: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Association for Childhood Education International, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Association of Teacher Educators, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals,  National Association of State Boards of Education, National Congress of Parents and Teachers, National Education Association, National Middle Schools Association, and National School Public Relations Association.