May 7, 2009
AMHERST, Mass. — Three secondary school instructors who challenged, inspired and moved members of Amherst College’s Class of 2009 will be honored with the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards during the school’s 188th Commencement exercises at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 24. This year’s recipients include Addison Diehl (formerly Addison Fontenot), an English teacher from Bel Air High School in El Paso, Texas, now teaching at Stratford High School in Nashville, Tenn.; Lawrence Forberg, an English teacher from Riverside Brookfield High School in Riverside, Ill.; and Kay Tipton, a retired math teacher who taught at Vestavia Hills High School in Birmingham, Ala.
The honor recognizes instructors and counselors who have been important in the lives of graduating Amherst students. The winners are chosen by a committee of seniors, faculty and staff from nominations submitted by members of the Class of 2009.
According to former student and nominator Lauren Cordova ’09, Diehl gave his students a different—and valuable—perspective on writing. He helped her understand that she didn’t have to “write for standardized tests” and that her thoughts could be articulated in creative and interesting ways that “didn’t have to have the flavor of a brown paper bag.” But his support for his pupils extended well beyond the classroom, Cordova said: He served as a mentor, counselor and friend to her and many of her classmates. “To say his office was a safe space would be a gross understatement. We relied on him to be there—morning, noon and night—to share in our joys and counsel us through all struggles, from the trivial to the critical.” He even inspired her to consider a career in teaching when she graduates from Amherst. “I thought I wanted to be a teacher, so I did a teaching internship, but I soon realized that I didn’t want to be a teacher because I wanted to teach. I wanted to be a teacher for that valuable time with kids before school, during lunch and after school. I wanted to help adolescents make good decisions and be a positive and caring role model in their lives. In short, I want to be to others what Mr. Fontenot was to [me].”
Claire Rann ’09, who nominated Forberg, was similarly inspired by her English teacher. Rann said that she had a tendency, in high school, to argue about the texts read in class just for the sake of arguing; Forberg would cheerfully participate in these arguments and then invite Rann to continue the conversation before school or during his lunch hour. “Mr. Forberg’s selflessly accommodating manner is what made him an extraordinary teacher,” she wrote. “Regardless of the papers he had to grade, his duties as a coach and the demands of his five children, Mr. Forberg always made time for his students, especially those who have needed help in one form or another outside of the classroom.” He stayed in touch with Rann after she enrolled at Amherst and continued to send encouragement and advice her via e-mail throughout her college career. Having also been her cross-country coach, he even pushed her to take up running again during the summer following her first year as a way to cope with a tragic accident in her family. “He truly represents everything a teacher in a public high school struggling to improve itself should be: accommodating and understanding but passionate and demanding at the same time.”
Tipton, who worked at her district for more than 30 years, led the
school’s renowned competitive math team in addition to teaching algebra, trigonometry, her notoriously difficult Advanced Placement-level calculus and other math courses. Her approach to helping her students understand the sometimes overwhelming subject matter was to encourage them to simply focus on the learning, because she was supremely confident in the abilities of her pupils, said nominator Mingham Ji ’09. “As Mrs. Tipton often reminded us, ‘Just worry about the material, and the grades will take care of themselves.’ Needless to say, she was right. By believing in the best her students had to offer, Mrs. Tipton taught us to expect more from ourselves.” She demonstrated a commitment to her students outside of the classroom as well: she would stop and talk with them in the hallway, take them to breakfast before math tournaments and even counseled them after the sudden death of a classmate. “It’s hard for me to believe how much she gave herself to us,” explained Ji, “but she dedicated herself to teaching solely because of her students and the belief that a solid education would help their talents shine.”
The Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards are named for the first president of Amherst and his wife. This is the 13th year that the college has presented the awards.
Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with approximately 1,600 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B. A. degree in 34 fields of study.