A Q&A with Sean McComb, the 2013-14 Maryland Teacher of the Year


Sean McComb is a seven-year educator who has coordinated the AVID program and taught English at Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts in Dundalk. He was named Maryland's Teacher of the Year for 2013-14.

Q: What inspired you to become an educator?
A: I was following in the footsteps of great teachers that I had. My high school experience was full of a lot of turmoil at home and difficult times…. I had teachers who provided a safe haven for me and provided a productive place to be and really gave me hope in a kind of desperate time. Those teachers inspired me to do the same for other students.

Q: What do you think is so important about public education?
A: Education to me is the silver bullet for our society. It is the institution we have that makes the American dream possible, where students get an equitable opportunity to create a life for themselves. Our public schools . . . welcome everyone into their doors and promise to provide an education for everyone. (That) is the key to that American dream, and without it, so many students would go without that possibility.

Q: What do you consider the role of a teacher to be?
A: There are 700 synonyms for teacher. I think that we are first and foremost people who should (foster) a relationship with our students. We should believe in them, value them, and expect great things from them. And then our role is to pull in the science part of teaching, which is identifying . . .skills -- where our students are and where they should be -- and we each have a role in building those skills…. There is so much that goes into reaching a student and really helping them reach their potential.

Q: What is your role in the college readiness program AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and how do programs like AVID help students in need?
A: AVID is in most of our high schools in Baltimore County, and we target students in eighth grade who are in a large academic middle. They are students with potential and with promise but who may not fulfill their promise to the fullest without some additional support. Many of them are first-generation college (bound) students, many of them come from low-income families, and they just need some additional support to move into AP classes and move on to four-year colleges.

I think having some specialized programs like AVID helps to target certain student populations that might be a little bit underserved and to reach more students with directed efforts that are going to support them. What AVID does in our schools allows…(teachers) to really work closely with students and develop those relationships. And then, when a student has some of those emotional or psychological problems that can detract from school work, they can lean on an adult who they know is their champion, …who is going to be beside them and really thinks the best of them and the most of them.

Q: Do you have any favorite books or quotes that inspire you?
A: My favorite book to work with students on is "The Kite Runner." That story is a story of redemption, a story of trying to do well. It relates to my past. I left the home of an alcoholic parent at a difficult time… and felt a lot of guilt over leaving, I felt like I did something wrong there and that has motivated me to make things right for other people and to heal others and allow them to get through difficult times.

One of my favorite quotes is from John Wooden who says to make adversity an asset. I have learned to make my adversity an asset when working with students. I have had three students in my AVID program lose a parent during their high school time, and I lost a parent when I was in high school, so having gone through that adversity, it becomes an asset when I am working with them. In many ways, all the challenges that I faced when growing up give me some authenticity and a way to relate to students.

Q: How does it feel to be Maryland's Teacher of the Year?
A: It feels phenomenal, and it's a huge honor. I really try to remind everyone that it is the community at Patapsco (High School) that has led to me being the educator that I am. It really is like a family environment amongst the faculty. The best part about it is being given the opportunity to go out and stand up for public education, which is what has allowed me to be successful and be who I am. The best part is being able to represent public educators.

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