Ulmer has chance at national honor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; Dorothy Ulmer&8217;s trophy case must be close to full.

There&8217;s hardly a school board meeting that goes by when the Vidalia High School teacher doesn&8217;t receive special recognition for something.

She almost annually lands Quality Science and Math grants for her school; she recently became a National Board Certified teacher; and now she&8217;s aiming for the White House.

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Ulmer finds out this month whether she&8217;s a Presidential Award winner.

The math teacher has already made the Louisiana cut &8212; she&8217;s one of three state finalists for the 2005 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which calls itself the highest honor for kindergarten through 12th-grade math and science teachers.

From the 253 state finalists, a maximum of 108 national winners will be chosen.

First, Ulmer was nominated on the local level last year. To complete the application she had to video a class period and submit an in-depth analysis of her teaching style.

&8220;They want the children doing all the work,&8221; she said. &8220;They want me to lead them.&8221;

For her video, VHS students did a lesson on the equation of circles. Because the class was not long after the December 2004 tsunami, the students used the coordinates of the tsunami in their lesson. They graphed the center of circles, made tangent circles and looked at the equations.

&8220;Every time I do one of these lessons I learn so much,&8221; Ulmer said. &8220;You really should prepare your lessons every day as if you were going to be observed. It makes you so much better of a teacher.&8221;

And after the video was complete, she had to write about what went right and what went wrong in the class.

This is Ulmer&8217;s third year to enter the Presidential Award contest

but her first time to be a state finalist.

&8220;Presidential awardees represent exceptional professional models of what we are looking for in science and mathematics teachers,&8221; National Science Foundation Program Director Celeste Pea said in a press release.

&8220;They are highly qualified in their fields, deeply knowledgeable about their subjects and equipped with the methods and strategies that improve teaching and learning in science and mathematics.&8221;

Winners will spend a week in Washington, D.C., meeting with the president, senators and congressmen, and will attend several professional development sessions. They will also receive $10,000 for their school.

&8220;That I want to spend on staff development for the math teachers,&8221; Ulmer said.

Past grant dollars have been spent on the technology that overtakes Ulmer&8217;s classroom. Now, she wants to focus on improving the skills of already quality teachers, she said.

The Presidential Award application process is a lot of work and a lot of stress, Ulmer said, but she&8217;ll try again next year if she doesn&8217;t win this year.

&8220;You learn from the process,&8221; she said. &8220;It&8217;s worth it.&8221;