James Schafer, a physics and mathematics teacher at Montgomery Blair High School, has been named the 2010-2011 Teacher of the Year for Montgomery County and will compete for Maryland Teacher of the Year.
The surprise announcement took place at the Champions for Children gala on April 28 held at MedImmune global headquarters in Gaithersburg. The Champions for Children event honors outstanding teachers, administrators, supporting services employees, businesses and community volunteers. The awards are sponsored by the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education.
“James Schafer is a fine example of the high-quality educators we have in every Montgomery County school building," said Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. "Congratulations to Mr. Schafer and all MCPS staff on the outstanding work they do every day.”
Schafer was chosen from among three finalists. The other finalists were Don Ayotte from Thomas S. Wootton High School and Carol Knoblach from Travilah Elementary School.
Schafer began his teaching career at Blair in 2002, where he taught multiple levels of physics, ranging from introductory 9th grade conceptual physics through advanced placement (AP) classes. He also taught in the BLAST Summer Enrichment Program for incoming 9th grade students who need additional support in organizational and study skills and peer relationships.
He began teaching primarily in the school’s Math, Science, Computer Science Magnet Program in 2007. Known for his ability to teach complicated concepts to a broad range of students, his upper-level electives boast some of the highest enrollment numbers of non-magnet students at Blair. His students achieve extraordinary results—100 percent of his students scored a 3 or higher on the AP Physics exam last year. Their average score was a remarkable 4.8 out of a possible 5.
Schafer strives to make his classes relevant to his students’ lives, firmly believing that this approach helps students master complex material. “I have an advantage in teaching physics because you cannot walk around without seeing it all around you. I can point to things all the time and say, ‘Do you know why that works?’ and if the answer is ‘no,’ I say, ‘Well, do you want to find out?”
For the past four years, Schafer has coached Blair’s highly successful It’s Academic quiz team, winner of the 2008 Washington metro area championship. He gladly dedicates his lunch, after school, and weekend time to coach his students and help them showcase their academic talent. “This is not just about memorizing facts,” he says. “It’s an avenue to making students more attentive and more driven academically.” Schafer also coaches the physics team, coordinates and coaches the Final Frontiers program that engages students in engineering, and mentors AP Physics teachers throughout the county.
Schafer, an alumnus of Rockville High School, graduated cum laude in 2002 from the College of William and Mary with degrees in physics and applied mathematics. He also has achieved certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.
This fall, county Teacher of the Year winners from the 24 Maryland jurisdictions will be honored at a ceremony sponsored by the Maryland State Department of Education, where the Maryland Teacher of the Year will be announced.