April 29, 2010
AMHERST, Mass. — Three secondary school instructors who challenged, inspired and moved members of Amherst College’s Class of 2010 will be honored with the Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards during the school’s 189thCommencement exercises at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 23. This year’s recipients include Phil Hockensmith, of Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Mo.; Paula Mark, of Hialeah High School in Hialeah, Fla.; and Paul Tierney, of The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
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 2010.
According to former student Daniel Kim, Hockensmith is, quite simply, “one of the greats.” “Greatness starts with the basics—preparation and attention to small details,” Kim explained in his submission nominating his high school history teacher for the award. “He is a master of world and European history, and he was able to structure the class curriculum in a balanced way with lectures, discussion, essays and special events.” If students didn’t do as well as expected in particular areas, Hockensmith would change his lesson plans and spend extra time teaching those topics because “he expected all students could and would achieve in his class.” Such a thorough, varied approach didn’t just engage his students, said Kim—it moved them. “Mr. Hockensmith pushed, prodded and ultimately inspired us to achieve. He set the bar high, but he worked hard so that each of us could make it.… Of all my teachers, he is truly deserving of this award.”
Mark, who was nominated by Sulynn Machado, made a similarly lasting impression on her former student. The English teacher accepted her students’ successes at learning and in life as a given, which, in turn, motivated her pupils, explained Machado. “Her courses were infused with vocabulary she said we would need to know when we arrived at an upper-level school; her assignments filled with chances to learn about ourselves, who we are and why we think certain ways. And the very small amount of literature I had under my belt prior to college [was] from her assigned readings that other teachers seemed to find no need to encourage.” Outside of the classroom and well after her students graduated, Mark continued to do what she could to help pupils, even managing to coordinate an internship for Machado—a sophomore at Amherst at the time—with Mark’s own surgical oncologist while she was being treated for breast cancer. “She encouraged every student to live up to his or her fullest potential. She didn’t help her students reach their dreams—she helped her students develop them. She made us understand that no star was too far out of reach if you were willing to put in the effort.”
Nominator David Wadden attributed his love of his major, physics, to high school teacher Tierney, who convinced him early on to stick with the science even when he was having difficulty grasping the concepts. Wadden followed Tierney’s suggestions and ended up flourishing in his studies, thanks to Tierney’s thorough and engaging guidance and, later, an informal physics meeting that Tierney agreed to preside over an hour before school began. But Tierney’s generosity with his time did not end with the before-school meetings. “To resolve a scheduling conflict with another course that prevented me from making one class meeting a week, he offered to make up the time with me separately, one-on-one,” said Wadden. “During this time he began to dispense his valuable advice not just on the course material, but on his experiences with physics in high school, college and beyond.” Even after Wadden graduated, Tierney stayed in touch with his former pupil. All of these efforts were not lost on Wadden: “He had a profound influence on my life and on the lives of my friends and classmates.… His intelligence, generosity and deep care for his students set him apart as a wise advisor and an exceptional teacher.”
The Phebe and Zephaniah Swift Moore Teaching Awards are named for the first president of Amherst and his wife. This is the 14th 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.