Central DeWitt High School teachers Staci Mercado and Grady Gallagher recently were selected as the 2019 Teachers of the Year by the Brothers of the Crossroads Masonic Lodge No. 677 in DeWitt.
Mercado and Gallagher said they were honored by the recognition, and appreciate the efforts the Crossroads Masonic Lodge makes each year to support local educators.
Central DeWitt Middle and High School Principal George Pickup said he couldn’t agree more.
“I want to thank the [organization] for doing this,” Pickup related. “They also give the winners a stipend to use for things the teachers need for their classrooms. Anytime public schools can get a little extra help, it’s always appreciated. These awards always help with teacher morale, too, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Gallagher has been teaching for four years at Central DeWitt.
He stays busy teaching high school business classes including Introduction to Business, Social Media Marketing, Business Concepts, Employment Strategies, Internship and Introduction to Web Design.
Gallagher also is the adviser for the Future Business Leaders of America, and coaches football, basketball, and middle school track.
The 26-year-old, who grew up in Moville in western Iowa, said several teachers, both of his grandmothers, and his mother all influenced him to choose teaching as his profession.
Now, he hopes to leave an encouraging impression on the young people in his care.
“Getting the chance to impact our students,” Gallagher related. “It comes with a big responsibility, but I’m reminded daily how lucky I was growing up to be influenced by teachers who truly cared about my life inside and outside of the school. As teachers, we get the chance to be positive examples and role models who really can put our mark on a student’s day, year, or life.”
Something Gallagher said that keeps him motivated is improvement.
While he may never be the perfect teacher or coach, he knows there always will be opportunities to be better.
“That’s the challenge that keeps me going,” Gallagher shared. “You don’t always know what happens to students outside of the school day and what difficulties they may face, but I want to try my best to help them and be a positive influence in their lives.”
Mercado, who has been teaching at Central DeWitt for 18 years (20 total), said realizing teaching was her profession of choice was gradual.
And, like Gallagher, she pulled inspiration from her mom, Pat Frey of DeWitt.
“When I was a kid, my mom read to me every day,” Mercado related. “She’s the reason I love reading and writing. My many fabulous junior high and high school language arts teachers showed me that teaching English is a complex and rewarding art, that begins with a passion for the subject and blossoms with relationships.”
Mercado teaches the school’s college-credit Composition I and II classes, Introduction to Literature classes, and Creative Writing I and II. She also is the adviser for the school’s literary magazine “The Scribbler,” and is an adjunct professor for the online Masters in Creative Writing program at Southern New Hampshire University.
As a 1991 Central DeWitt alumnae, Mercado said her pride in the district and its students runs deep.
While it’s a mixture of rewards and challenges, Mercado said above all, her work is fun.
“I love my job,” she shared. “I have an invested interest in my students’ success. I want them to be able to look back on their school experience like I did — knowing they worked hard and they’re ready for whatever comes next.”
Mercado’s favorite part of the job is watching her students take creative risks.
Even for professional writers, she noted, those risks don’t always pay off. But, that’s the nature of creativity.
“Sometimes you fall flat on your face and sometimes you soar,” she said. “As long as they give something a little scary a try, I am ecstatic.
“The most challenging thing today is battling perfectionism, at least with my writers. Many are skeptical when I say, ‘During that first draft, give yourself permission to suck.’ First drafts are terrible. People become great writers because they understand that good writing is a subjective process that requires many layers of revision. That’s a scary thing for students who are more comfortable with the black-and-white world of right and wrong. So scary that starting is the hardest part.”
While the educators are honored to have received such recognition, both insisted they have a number of co-workers just as credible of being acknowledged for their teaching talents.
“There are several worthy teachers at Central DeWitt who are deserving of this award,” Gallagher noted. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity, and I hope I keep improving each year I teach.”