Two earn Cato Excellence in Teaching awards

Aug. 09, 2013 @ 10:50 AM

Two Union County teachers have been awarded the Cato Excellence in Teaching award by the Arts and Sciences Council. 

The award is given to six teachers and is open to public and private schools in seven counties.

Butch Phaneuf, a social studies teacher at Cuthbertson High School, said he was surprised when he was notified. In part because he forgot he had ever applied.

“It was pretty flattering,” Phaneuf said. He added that teachers do not work alone, they work as a group of people, so he considers it a “shared honor.”

Phaneuf has been teaching in Union County for 13 years. He teaches social studies primarily to 10th through 12th grade students. 

A statement from the Arts and Sciences Council said Phaneuf “learned to innovate and make full use of student creativity during an appointment to a mission school in Peru in South America.”

Phaneuf did not always want to be a teacher. 

“There was a change in philosophy over the years,” he said. He said he wanted to become a college professor so he could “keep delving deeper into topics” while receiving a salary.

Over time he decided that the primary goal was the students.

“What I’ve done is just derived a lot of my energy and excitement from the kids in the room,” he said. “I learn a lot from them. They keep me going.”

He decided he would try to “turn the light on” in student’s heads. 

For Phaneuf, the most satisfying part of the job is when his students stop needing him to teach. 

“When you begin to see students learning on their own and learning for themselves,” he said. “ when asked what he enjoyed most. “When they become self-motivated, when they begin to catch on.”

He said students will come into class and want to talk about a news story or something they hear don the radio.

“Seeing the students get motivated to learn on their own...that, to me, is the gratifying thing,” Phaneuf said. 

Glenn Baron, a fifth grade teacher at Kensington Elementary School, received the award for science.

“It’s pretty much an honor,” Baron said. 

He said he looked at the list of other candidates and knew some of them.

“They’re extraordinary science teachers,” he said. “It was really remarkable to be picked among those.”

Baron has been teaching for 10 years. He came to the profession after working as a veterinarian, something he still does on a part-time basis.

He said he changed careers not because he disliked being a vet, “but because I was inspired to be in a classroom...science was one of the reasons and just working to create good citizens was the other.”

Baron’s decision to teach fifth grade, much like the class he teaches, was also scientific. He said when he decided he wanted to become a teacher he talked to adults about their favorite teachers. He asked about 50 different people, he said and abbout 50 percent of them named their fourth, fifth or sixth grade teacher. 

Baron said he came to the conclusion that it wasn’t necessarily that the teachers were exceptional, but that that’s an age where kids are open to learning and meeting adults apart from their parents. 

“If that’s when they’re opening their eyes to new adults, then that’s where I want to be,” he said. 

According to a statement from the Arts and Sciences Council, Baron took the lead in 2006 to acquire county land next to the school for outdoor classrooms. 

Baron’s favorite part of the job is seeing children learn the subject matter.

“When the light goes off and kids are open to something new and surprising about the world they didn’t know,” Baron said. “Some changes in human beings happen slowly, but some of them happen in an instant and I love when those happen.” 

Baron is honored to receive the award and said he hopes it will give him an opportunity to excite other teachers about the possibility of teaching science. 

“It doesn’t happen in every classroom as it should,” he said. 

Baron said that some teachers are intimidated by science and worried they won’t be able to answer a question. So instead of exploring it with the kids, they back away. 

Baron hopes to be able to use this honor to help other science teachers.

The award ceremony will be held Oct. 8. Each recipient will receive $1,500 and a sculpture by local artist Greg Scott. The award is possible through an endowment from The Cato Corporation. 

“These teachers are committed to using their passion for art, science and history to engage their students and encourage them to be active, lifelong learners,” ASC Interim President & Chief Innovation Officer Robert Bush said in a statement. “ASC is proud to join with The Cato Corporation in recognizing the lasting impact they have in the lives of their students.”