Hazelbrook's Sarah Morris is Teacher of the Year

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hazelbrook Middle School teacher Sarah Morris hand 8th grader Ayslinn Buchholz celebrate during Tuesdays award ceremony, Morris was selected out of more than 9,000 teachers across the country as Barnes & Nobles teacher of the year. When Sarah Morris was growing up in Southern Oregon, she hated middle school.

So she did the only natural thing: She became a middle school teacher.

Morris, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Hazelbrook Middle School in Tualatin, was named Barnes & Noble bookstore’s National Teacher of the Year after a former student nominated her for the honor.

Morris, 42, accepted the award on Tuesday, the same day Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden designated as “Sarah Morris Day” to celebrate her efforts in the classroom.

Morris said she never would have expected to receive the award.

“It has really been the most amazing thing that has happened in my teaching career,” Morris said.

A committee selected Morris for the honor out of more than 9,100 nationwide entries in the bookseller’s annual “My Favorite Teacher Contest.” Ayslinn Buchholz, now an eighth-grader at Hazelbrook, wrote and submitted an essay detailing Morris’ work with her students and outlining how she influenced students’ lives.

Buchholz wrote that Morris takes time to not only teach them about history but also immerse them in the past.

“She’s an amazing teacher, and everybody that I know who has her loves her,” she said. “All of my friends say they love Ms. Morris. She’s amazing, she really challenges us, but she does it in a way that we don’t even know that we are being challenged.”

Morris said Buchholz’s letter really touched her.

“I cried reading her letter,” she said. “The fact that she would actually take the time to do that is so amazing. The thing I like most about her essay is that she captures what I have been trying to do as a teacher that I didn’t even realize. Middle-schoolers need to experience things to understand the concepts. I don’t care so much about dates, but I want them to understand the concepts and why things happened and how things have changed history.”

Morris is known for role-playing with her students. She dressed up as a monk to better teach kids about Martin Luther, and had students be as quiet as possible to help them understand what Anne Frank and her family underwent when they were hiding from Nazi troops in World War II.

“If they, for a moment, can feel what it might have been like for those people in history, they can get a better sense of what I’m trying to teach them,” Morris said.

Morris’ award come with a $5,000 check and an additional $5,000 for Hazelbrook. But Morris said the honor isn’t all hers. It’s shared with everyone at the school.

“The unique thing about our school is every teacher is someone’s favorite teacher,” Morris said. “The people I work with are all so incredible. I really think they should all be acknowledged.”

Ayslinn Buchholz wrote the essay below about teacher Sarah Morris:

Ms. Sarah Morris, some may call her a teacher, an educator, or even an instructor but to the students who have spent time in her class she is much, much more. To her students at Hazelbrook Middle School, she is a time-travel machine and we are her time-travelers. Never once did I walk in her class fearing dates, times and names because I knew she would take us back and plant our feet into Charlemagne’s, Anne Frank’s and Aristotle’s shoes. She would give us days dedicated to being monks, philosophers and even Spartans. Like any good time traveler, we wrote essays sharing our opinions about the Greeks versus the Romans or Bloody Mary versus Queen Marie Antoinette. We got chances to experience World War II, the Black Plague, and the changing European world through many hands-on experiences. Ms. Morris brought in historical objects to bring each era to life. She dressed as a monk or a day dedicated to learning about Martin Luther and medieval monks. She also spent the day turning us into monks: not allowing us to speak and giving us one pretzel to represent the little food they received. While we were learning about World War II, she put up genuine era posters to bring the feeling of patriotism into the classroom. I remember more from her class than the dates and names other teachers have tried to hammer into my head.

Ms. Morris always had answers to every myth, legend, and government conspiracy question anyone threw at her, and she enjoyed answering then, too. Ms. Morris allowed us to look at things with our own opinion, never telling us we were wrong as long as we had information to back it up. Ms. Morris went out of her way to research answers to our questions and explain them to us, sometimes even spending whole class days discussing the topic.

She deserves this recognition because without her it would have been just another dull year of history fundamentals. Not only did Ms. Morris find a way to excite the least interested students, but she also challenged the Talented and Gifted students by asking questions that inspired us. Having the skill to get hundreds of students to walk away each week with a memorable act, shows true commitment to her students. Buy the end of the year, we all loved the subject just as much as she did.

Ms. Morris deserves this award because she has done something that no other teacher has: She has brought the past to us by sending us into the past. Ms. Morris is a time traveler, a role model and a friend.

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