National Award for Tulip Grove Teacher

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008

As Shannon Landefeld sat down for Thanksgiving dinner with extended family last week, she was still reeling from news that made her thankful indeed this year.

Last month, the elementary school teacher received the Milken Educator Award, one of the nation's most prestigious education honors. It is made sweeter because its recipients are not told that they have been nominated until word arrives that they have won the award and its $25,000 prize.

Landefeld is one of two Maryland teachers and 80 educators nationwide selected this year for the Milken award, the somewhat mysterious prize presented annually to outstanding teachers by the Milken Family Foundation. The other Maryland recipient is Christian Slattery, a vocal music teacher at Hall's Cross Roads Elementary in Aberdeen.

There is much Landefeld still does not know about the award. She does not know who put her name forward for consideration. Nor does she know how, exactly, the foundation went about examining her credentials, nor what it was about her teaching style that convinced the national group she should win.

Landefeld, 31, who started teaching fourth grade this year after nine years in first-grade classrooms, insists that what she does every day in her classroom is no different from the work of many of her colleagues at Tulip Grove Elementary School in Bowie.

"It comes a lot from my connection with my kids," she said. "They know we have our serious times to work, but it should be enjoyable along the way."

Landefeld said she incorporates rigor into her lesson planning while keeping things fun for the students, trying to take advantage of their curiosity about the world around them.

Others in the Prince George's County school system have been quick to point out ways Landefeld excels. Her honor has been embraced by colleagues, in part because her career has been deeply rooted in the 130,000-student district.

Landefeld, a Maryland native who lives in Crofton, began her teaching career at Patuxent Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, following the example of her mother, Barbara Landefeld, who spent 24 years as a teacher in the system and the past 14 years as an administrator.

Shannon Landefeld said she decided at an early age to become a teacher after watching the joy her mother received from her students. She said she can remember visiting her mother's lively classroom as a child, on days when she was off from school for doctor's appointments.

"She had tons of animals in her classroom," Landefeld said. "It was like a science museum. She had plants growing and salamanders and a little pond with frogs in it. It really still is an inspiration."

One purpose of the Milken awards, given to teachers since 1985, is to inspire young people to enter the teaching profession. The cash prize comes with no strings attached, and the presentation of the award is made more exciting because school leaders plot for surprise.

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