Math instructor honored as Pa.'s teacher of year

October 27, 2009 1:13:25 PM PDT
A high school math instructor from the Pittsburgh suburbs who hails from a family of educators was honored Tuesday as Pennsylvania's teacher of the year.

Michelle S. Switala, head of the Math Department at Pine-Richland High School in Gibsonia, beat out 11 other finalists to collect the award from the Pennsylvania chapter of the National State Teachers of the Year organization.

Student Tom Robinson, who introduced her at the award ceremony in Harrisburg, said Switala was known for her sense of humor and called her "one of those teachers I'll never forget."

She held weekly after-school study sessions that helped him get through Algebra 2.

"In my class, if someone didn't grasp the material, she retaught it in different ways until they got it," Robinson said.

Switala's parents and six siblings are teachers, and Switala is pursuing a doctorate in math education at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Not only does she expect her students to learn and grow, she also expects it of herself," Robinson said.

The 40-year-old Switala said she loves her profession and thanked her students for what they have taught her.

"You challenge me, you frustrate me, you make me laugh," she said. "Sometimes you make me cry. I've only broken down twice during the day and just started bawling. You know, not recently."

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said Switala and the finalists, chosen from about 150,000 educators across the state, will serve as examples for their fellow teachers.

"For the teacher who wins, this is a year of excitement and a year where that teacher will touch other educators over and over and grow, exponentially, the ideals that good teaching is all about," Zahorchak said.

Switala will represent the state next year in the 2010 national teacher of the year competition.


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