'She Doesn't Let A Bad Day Show'

English teacher Vera Young mentors educators, helps write curricula, creates staff development programs, serves on committees and advises the state Education Department.
English teacher Vera Young mentors educators, helps write curricula, creates staff development programs, serves on committees and advises the state Education Department. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
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By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008

English teacher Vera Young walked up and down the rows of Westlake High School freshmen, reading aloud from Elie Wiesel's "Night." Her voice boomed as she impersonated a Nazi guard and softened as she began a passage about the night train ride a group of Orthodox Jews took to a concentration camp.

Without losing her place, she picked up a pencil from the floor, made grand gestures with her hands and gave her legendary look to quiet two chatterers. She stopped reading to explain what a synagogue is and, later, to give the students time to jot down their thoughts on the chapter.

"Okay, you've got two minutes, let's go," Young coached the class of 23 students one morning this month. "Let's go, people."

Young's students and colleagues describe her as enthusiastic, energetic, passionate, motivating, well-prepared, dynamic, dedicated, inspiring and awesome -- in their opinion, the perfect pick for the 2008 Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award in Charles County.

"She is perhaps one of the most fun-loving and caring teachers I have ever met," fellow teacher Meredith Stojkovic wrote in a letter nominating Young for the award. "She unfailingly greets her colleagues and students with a smile and encourages a chuckle with a joke; she doesn't let a bad day show."

Young, 47, said she originally didn't want to be a teacher because she saw how demanding the job was for her parents, two retired Charles teachers. But as a student at St. Mary's College of Maryland, Young was bored in business classes and instead decided to study literature and education.

"Their job was never done, and I saw how hard it was," Young said of her parents. "But 20 years later, here I am, still teaching."

After graduating in 1983, Young taught at Great Mills High School in St. Mary's County. In 1987, she took a long-term substitute position in Charles as a drama teacher at Lackey High School, then spent five years teaching English at McDonough High School. In 1995, Young moved to Westlake High, where she teaches honors, Advanced Placement and inclusion English classes.

Young also mentors teachers, assists in writing curricula, creates staff development programs, is on several county committees and advises the state Department of Education. She lives in La Plata with her husband, who retired from the military and teaches technology at a Charles middle school.

Young's students say her enthusiasm and refusal to give up on anyone make her one of their favorite teachers. She even swept the favorite-teacher category for each grade in a student newspaper poll a few years ago, Stojkovic said.

Westlake senior Justin Parker wrote in a nomination letter that he had a rough time in Young's English class his freshman year, until he "finally realized that I had somebody special and I had somebody that was going to keep me straight through the rough times."

Tavious Washington, a senior, wrote about how Young helped him improve his grades and care about his classes. "You made a boring class the best year of English that I have ever had. I always tell people that you are my favorite teacher and the coolest at that."

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