Palmetto Middle School teacher is a top teacher

By Nancy Eagleton

Top teacher Cristine O’Hara with Commissioner Dr. Eric Smith, Chancellor Dr. Frances Haithcock and Dr. T. Willard Fair, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Greater Miami and chairman of state Board of Education.By Nancy Eagleton

Cutler Bay resident Cristine O’Hara was honored this summer as one of the top five teachers in Florida for 2009-10.

In early July, the Florida Teacher of the Year candidates and other educators gathered in Orlando for the Macy’s Teacher of the Year gala and conference. While O’Hara was not the Grand Winner, she was thrilled to be there.

“It was so much fun,” she says. “I had 24 people go to celebrate with me. I had a good support system.”

She was named the Teacher of the Year for Palmetto Middle in the fall. Then she was later honored as the Teacher of the Year for Region Five and early in 2010 she was named the Miami-Dade Public Schools Teacher of the Year.

In May, she was in her classroom when she was surprised by a delegation that let her know she was up for the Macy’s Teacher of the Year honor.

“My husband found out before me,” she says. “He bought me roses. It was really fun.”

O’Hara’s success stems from her love of teaching and her joy in teaching eighth grader, an age group many teachers avoid.

“Eighth grade is my favorite,” she says. “People think I’m crazy. I enjoy it every day.”

She has had many students come back and tell her that they are really good writers now and they want to be teachers.

“I think I’m making a good positive impact on the kids’ lives,” she says.

So does her former principal Lisa Noffo. Noffo was recently reassigned as principal of the New World School of the Arts.

“Cristine O’Hara is the best kind of teacher,” Noffo says. “Her lessons are rigorous and relevant, and the relationship she has created makes students want to be in class!”

One of the reasons that O’Hara is so effective is that she’s always rethinking her literature and revamping projects.

“Summer’s a good time to get downtime and reflect about next year,” she says. “I reflect on what I did this year, evaluate what’s working and revamp some things and initiate some new activities.”

But that’s not all. As the department chair, she is actively involved in the school.

“I train the personnel in a lot of things. I’m really passionate about what I do. I love it,” she says.

She’s also a PTSA member and works hard to maintain a good relationship with parents.

“We do a couple of projects a year that benefit the kids,” she says.

O’Hara also makes it a point to keep learning. She goes to every workshop or training she can.

“It livens my spirit so when I come back, I’m motivated to try new things,” she says.

When applying for Teacher of the Year, O’Hara submitted a video lesson on Greek mythology and connected it to modern advertising.

“I think they really got to see how handson I am. I really make language arts fun. I do a lot of research-based projects and collaborative work. I do a lot of writing with my students. I have good FCAT writing scores,” she says.

Five of her students were accepted for a poetry publication and two students were finalists for the county’s Do The Right Thing competition. O’Hara also has had finalists in the national PTSA’s Reflections writing contest.

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