Richard Sprecher, a social studies teacher at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School, has been selected to receive the MCPS Teacher of the Year award. He will represent Montgomery County in the competition for the 2001-2002 Maryland Teacher of the Year.
Sprecher found out about the honor May 11 during a surprise visit to his classroom from Superintendent Jerry D. Weast and Board of Education President Nancy J. King.
The award follows close on the heels of another honor. Sprecher was named Maryland History Day Teacher of the Year for the state of Maryland and Montgomery County in April. He also has been nominated for Teacher of the Year in 1996, the Greenblatt Excellence in Teaching Award in 2000 and by eighth grade students for the Disney American Teacher of the Year award in 1999 and 2000.
Sprecher, who has a B.S. in information systems management from the University of Maryland, a Maryland state teacher certification in special education from American University and a B.S. in political science, began teaching with the school system in 1983. He taught special education and regular education math and science at Benjamin Banneker Middle School, and then computer science, English and alternative education students at Rockville High School for two years before coming to Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School.
At Lee, he has taught social studies to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, using a hands-on, experiential approach. "Students have to be actively involved in learning," Sprecher said. "They have to feel and see what they are being taught. I try to bring social studies to students by providing as many authentic experiences as possible."
In Sprecher's classroom, this can mean anything from using comedy or drama to bring history to life, to transforming a hallway into a detailed colonial village, to building a 40-foot ship and the class's own Ellis Island, where students share their family stories and experiences. In his classroom, everyone is a star, and he uses the philosophy of Gardner's multiple intelligences to help develop each student's strengths and support their individual learning styles. "If your students feel they have a stake in their own education, they will learn," Sprecher believes.
His students, both current and former, agree. Many wrote letters of support for his nomination as Teacher of the Year. As one said, "He is the most enthusiastic teacher I have ever had. He makes learning interesting and makes sure the whole class is involved." Said another, "Not only does he teach you history, but makes you feel a part of it." Another recalled other students watching with envy as Sprecher's students walked into his classroom: "My classmates did not walk into an ordinary classroom, but one full of creativity, energy, excitement and experiential learning."
Sprecher tutored students at a local homeless shelter. During the past two years, he developed and implemented a program called "Presents for Adolescents," with Lee Middle School and Argyle Middle School students collecting presents during the winter holidays for middle school and high school students. He has coached 11 groups for History Day, a national program where students compete at the local, county, state and national levels by completing research projects on a particular historical topic, and works with students on the National Geographic Geography Bee.
Sprecher has been a mentor to new teachers and has done two videos demonstrating best practices of teaching for middle school teachers. He considers scoring the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) tests one of the most important things he has done, and says the experience helped him understand what skills his students need in order to be successful on MSPAP. Through workshops and team meetings, he has shared his knowledge with other teachers.
He also is a mentor to students who need a little extra support. Often, he has been approached by parents and other teachers to mentor students. "I take on this activity with a sense of humility," Sprecher said, "but knowing that students need our constant support to succeed."
Sprecher believes that providing all students with the same opportunities and a rigorous curriculum is critical. "Teachers must believe that all students can and will learn," he said. "Teachers must know what students need to know and do. Teachers must let our students know that they will not give up on them."