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High Expectations Keep Her Students Engaged

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page AA03

Jan Spicknall finished her one-on-one chats with students, took off her red baseball cap with the "Do Not Disturb" sign clipped on the front and announced to the whole class that the school day had come to an end.

Her third-graders responded with groans. After class, the veteran teacher's 20 charges sounded more like disciples than students as they explained why they were having so much fun in the third grade at Crofton Meadows Elementary School in Crofton.

Jan Spicknall, a third-grade teacher at Crofton Meadows Elementary School in Crofton, received The Washington Post's Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award for Anne Arundel County.

"She encourages people. She's smart," said Madison Koenig, 8.

"She reads to us a lot," said Joey Rossi, also 8. "If we don't understand something, she'll explain it to us so it's easier."

Spicknall is this year's recipient of The Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award for Anne Arundel County.

An Annapolis native, Spicknall entered teaching in midlife after raising three children of her own. She had volunteered in her children's classrooms, had seen good teachers at work and had learned to see every student's problems "through the eyes of my own children."

Spicknall started an after-school book club at Crofton Meadows to sustain her former students who had become addicted readers under her tutelage. She taught students to write her letters every week to discuss what they were reading on their own, an ongoing correspondence stored in special notebooks.

Young Morgan O'Brien's notebook of letters to her teacher "is sometimes funny and sometimes serious, but it is always thought-provoking," wrote her mother and school PTA president Allison O'Brien in a letter nominating Spicknall for the award. Morgan studied with Spicknall last year. "It is a great sample of her writing and thinking at age 8," the elder O'Brien wrote, "and I will treasure it forever."

Spicknall grew up in Anne Arundel, attending South Shore Elementary in Crownsville, Arundel Junior High (now Arundel Middle) in Odenton and Arundel High in Gambrills.

She married two years out of high school and became a full-time mother, raising two daughters and a son. Husband Warren is now retired from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, where he worked for 20 years as an electrical mechanic.

"I volunteered in the schools all the time," Spicknall recalled. "I was PTA president, spent as much of my life there as I did at home. So when it came time to pick a career, it seemed like a natural transition."

Spicknall started taking classes one or two at a time when her middle child, now 29, was still a toddler. She enrolled at Towson University in 1986 and earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1988. She later earned a master's degree in curriculum from Loyola College.

The day after she graduated from Towson, she went to work as a full-time substitute teacher. She soon accepted a job on the staff of Georgetown East Elementary School in Annapolis.

Spicknall taught students from varying economic backgrounds, eventually moving from the urban Annapolis school to Shipley's Choice Elementary in Millersville, Riviera Beach Elementary in Pasadena and then to Crofton Meadows, where she has taught for 11 years. She also mentors new teachers at her school.

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