Vermont’s humanities teacher of the year from Mount Anthony Middle SchoolPatrick McArdle / Staff photo
Wayne Bell, an English teacher at Mount Anthony Union Middle School, was named the teacher of the year by the Vermont Humanities Council. Bell, seen here in his classroom in Bennington on Tuesday, is also vice-chairman of the Manchester Select Board.
MANCHESTER — Wayne Bell, the Mount Anthony Union Middle School eighth-grade English teacher who was chosen as this year’s humanities educator of the year by the Vermont Humanities Council, has an idea of how technology fits into the classroom.
Bell, who is well-known in his hometown of Manchester as the vice-chairman of the Manchester Select Board, said he knows the students can look up the source of the school’s quote of the day but he wants them to go deeper.
“I want them to be curious but I want them to be in the habit of satisfying their own curiosity and learning to do that and essentially to be self-instructors. As teachers, we’re always struggling with curriculum and we’re trying to figure out what that should be and, truth be told, these kids are 13 years old. We don’t really have an idea of what kind of content, knowledge, skills, they’re going to need for what their job is going to be when they enter the workforce,” he said.
Bell said with a smile that he tells his students that his class is the most important they’ll ever take because it offers students a way to communicate and organize their thoughts.
“My hope is that they’ll have the flexibility and the habits of mind that, regardless of what kind of technology is in the building ... they’ll be able to assimilate into that and learn that and be able to keep up with a really fast-changing world,” he said.
It’s this kind of perspective on education that inspired the Vermont Humanities Council, or VHC, to choose Bell as the 11th recipient of the Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award and the first recipient from a middle school. In a statement, Peter Gilbert, executive director of the humanities council, said the award is given to a teacher who “challenges and inspires their students, who opens up for them the world of ideas and who encourages in them the joy of learning.”
Tim Payne, principal at the middle school in Bennington, said he was surprised that no middle school teachers had been chosen before but thought they “picked a good one out of Mount Anthony.” Payne said Bell was particularly an advocate for the middle school, as opposed to junior high, educational experience.
“I think (Bell) has thought about it a lot. I think he practices what he’s talking about. I think he sees the value of it and when we’ve had our conversations, I always seem to walk away knowing a little bit more about my purpose in the building and the purpose of this building,” he said.
Originally from New Jersey, Bell first taught in Massachusetts after attending the U.S. Air Force Academy and graduating from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. After running two well-known Manchester restaurants for many years, he returned to teaching, first in Manchester in 1999 and the next year at Mount Anthony.
Bell said teaching teenagers is challenging and rewarding, especially when he encounters a student who is “on the edge” but said he was particularly inspired by his own 10th-grade humanities teacher, Stephen Michaud. He said he hoped he emulate the way Michaud reached his students.
“You get a lot of kids who have had a lot of violence or neglect in their lives. They have to develop a shell. They’re not going to make it easy to get in. ... To the extent that you can, (you must) find a way into that, to crack that shell and make them laugh and make them think and make them start participating,” he said.
Bell, who said the award from the VHC will be his first statewide award, will be presented the award and a $1,000 check on Nov. 16 at the University of Vermont during the humanities council’s fall conference.
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