Each year at Commencement, Amherst College presents the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards to three outstanding secondary school teachers who challenged, inspired, and moved members of the graduating class. The awards are named for the first president of the College and his wife. Amherst has presented the awards since 1997.
Abeer K. Jadallah, history teacher
Doctors Charter School of Miami Shores Miami Shores, Florida
Nominated by Julissa Tello ’23
“Great teachers open up the world to their students,” observes Julissa Tello ’23, who graduates today as a double major in French and biology, “and Ms. Jadallah did this literally as well as figuratively for me.”
Championing the importance of global citizenship, Abeer Jadallah organized annual trips to international destinations, mounting major fundraising efforts to ensure that all who wished could participate. She also shared reflections on her own formative experience of moving from Palestine to the United States. At the same time, she always encouraged her students to consider multiple perspectives and to approach received knowledge with a critical eye. “History is all about the gray areas rather than the black or white,” she counseled, “and truth is found by wrestling with complexity.” She never failed to support her students’ intellectual and emotional growth, and to nurture their burgeoning commitment to making the world more just and equitable, urging them to engage fully and intentionally with the world and their own trajectory in it.
Tello credits Jadallah with sparking her interest in learning French and living abroad, elements of who she is that enhance her aspiration for a career in medicine and research: “This remarkable teacher taught me just how incredibly vast the world is, how varied our perspectives should be, and how positively venturesome I could be.”
Mike Maunu, computer science teacher
Francis Parker School San Diego, California
Nominated by Sam Hodges ’23
Between classes, most classrooms at Francis Parker School were empty—but not computer science teacher Mike Maunu’s room. Students gravitated there between periods and at lunchtime to hang out with each other and “just exist” with Mr. Maunu. Conversation was robust and wide-ranging: How would you organize a game of 4D chess? What did you think of the book Flatland?
In class, Mr. Maunu was a rigorous and deeply engaging teacher who invited students to take an active role in their education. “Mr. Maunu always tried to let the class lead the learning; he always stopped for input from the class about what we actually wanted,” notes Sam Hodges ’23, who graduates today with a double major in computer science and sexuality, women’s & gender studies.
From allowing students to vote on subjects for class projects, to dedicating the end of each year to topics students were interested in, to supporting students as they pursued independent projects beyond the range of the high school curriculum, “Mr. Maunu's freedom was something extraordinary.” When challenges proved insurmountable, he emphasized that the effort and thought that went into the attempt were valuable in themselves. He cultivated the curiosity and spirit of inquiry that have been foundational to Hodges’ time at Amherst. And when crises arose outside of the classroom, Mr. Maunu was more than a teacher: he was the truly caring and reassuring friend Hodges and their peers needed.
Felicia M. Mouton, English teacher
Grace King High School Metairie, Louisiana
Nominated by Diego Carias ’23
As a middle schooler, Diego Carias ’23 was eager to switch from ESL classes to honors English. When he made the leap, he landed in the class of a universally admired teacher, Felicia Mouton, only to discover that Mouton more than lived up to the hype. She was strict but made challenging texts like The Odyssey come alive. “Ms. Mouton welcomed us into a fun and inspiring learning environment in a place where students often went to jail or became crushed by the inescapable poverty prevalent in the community,” recalls Carias. Before long, he and his friends were sitting in on any class taught by Mouton whenever they had a free period.
Mouton’s unconditional support for her students extended beyond the classroom. When a family health crisis meant Carias had to miss classes every Monday during his senior year, Mouton helped him communicate with the administration. When things were hard, he knew he could start his day by sitting quietly in her ninth grade class, listening as she taught The Odyssey to a new crop of students. “She understood wholly and fully what I was going through, and she knew exactly what to do to help me persevere. She listened. She looked out for me. She was there for me when I was at my worst and when things got better. It was outstanding.”
Mouton was instrumental in preparing Carias for Amherst, and she brought him here physically, too—hopping in her car to make the multiday trip from Louisiana to Massachusetts and delivering Carias just in time for Orientation. He graduates today as a biology major.