April 15, 2008
Contact: Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Three secondary school instructors who challenged, inspired and moved members of Amherst College’s Class of 2008 will be honored with the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards during the school’s 187th commencement exercises at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 25. This year’s recipients include Sister Marlene Mucha from Holyoke Catholic High School in Granby, Mass.; Woody Aunan from Sandpoint High School in Sandpoint, Idaho; and Jorge Camacho from Felix Varela Senior High School in Miami, Fla.
The Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards recognize teachers and counselors who have been important in the careers of Amherst students. The prizes are chosen by a committee made up of seniors, faculty and staff from nominations submitted by members of the Class of 2008.
In the words of nominator Pawel Z. Binczyk, English instructor Sister Mucha may seem “stern and unyielding at first, [but] it doesn’t take long for a student to realize the façade, the ‘Marlene Show,’ as it is called, exists only to push each and every student to his or her potential.” A devout Catholic, she encourages frank conversations about the challenging books she reads with her pupils, and often stays long after school hours helping students or debating passages discussed in class. One of her courses, in fact, spawned in Binczyk his interest in English and creative writing. “Sister Mucha is a rare and courageous teacher whose gifts in the classroom are matched only by the care and genuine love she extends to each one of her students,” he wrote.
According to Ben Lockwood, the student who nominated him, Aunan teaches science at an overcrowded public high school with a low budget. Aunan is a tough—though well-respected—instructor and grader, said Lockwood, but enjoys challenging students with ideas that create a “crinkle,” “a furrowed brow and scrunched up nose that appears when a student grapples with a tough new concept.” During his time in Aunan’s classroom, Lockwood remembered that his teacher was equally pleased by “uncrinkles”: “when we finally ‘got it’—when we were struck by a blinding flash of understanding that for a moment, the thrill of learning overcame… cool disinterest.” “Those crinkles were the reason Mr. Aunan taught; the uncrinkles were the reason we loved him.”
Jorge Camacho, a chemistry teacher, was nominated by Jaime Botero, who described his high school alma mater as an under-funded public school of “predominantly Hispanic lower- and middle-class students better known by Marine recruiters than college admissions officers.” Camacho works admirably with the limited resources he has at his disposal, said Botero, but always contributes some of his own money in the name of a good science-related exercise. Though fun and light-hearted, Botero added that Camacho also makes sure to impart to his pupils some of his own real-world wisdom, including: “Trying one’s best is not to be done only on solemn occasions, but on anything and everything; living only happens in discomfort, not in the apathy of conformity or success; and real life-changing knowledge is not gained from success but from colossal failure.” “If it were not for [Camacho], I would not have enrolled in college, much less [Amherst],” wrote Botero. “If it were not for him, I would not strive to do better in all aspects, every day.”
2008 is the 12th year that Amherst has presented the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards. The honor expresses the college’s appreciation for the profession of teaching.