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Crystal Spring teacher to be saluted at White House

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Tuesday, one of Roanoke’s most-honored teachers is headed to the White House.

Wade Whitehead will be recognized at a Rose Garden ceremony to honor the National Teacher of the Year and Whitehead’s class of National Teachers Hall of Fame inductees.

Whitehead, a fifth-grade teacher at Crystal Spring Elementary School, learned he was selected for induction last month in a surprise ceremony at the school just before the spring break vacation. Whitehead said he was “stunned and humbled” to be chosen.

Based in Kansas, the National Teachers Hall of Fame recognizes current and retired teachers who are exemplary in their field. The group has given the award since 1992 and is “committed to drawing the public’s attention to exceptional PreK-12 teachers,” according to its website. This year, five current and retired teachers were selected from across the country.

This is Whitehead’s 22nd year of teaching. A fourth-generation teacher, Whitehead said he moved to Roanoke solely because he wanted the experience and challenge of teaching in an urban area. Roanoke has been a great place to grow as a teacher, he said.

“There’s never a dull moment,” Whitehead said. “There’s an unpredictability that makes things more exciting and requires more innovation.”

Before the Hall of Fame honor, Whitehead was recognized as the district’s teacher of the year in 2000. He has also been honored with the McGlothlin Award for Teaching Excellence and by the Milken Family Foundation’s national education awards.

Three things make a great teacher, Whitehead said, and are qualities he tries to model in his own classroom: a love of the subject matter they’re teaching, a deep knowledge of educational pedagogy and a rapport with students. The last one is most important, he says.

Teachers must be “very intentional about building rapport with students and their families, because no significant learning happens without a significant relationship,” Whitehead said. “It’s just like the rest of life.”

Communities that support learning and education are important he said, praising Roanoke’s neighborhood schools for the way they serve as “anchors.”

Whitehead said the issue he tries to bring up most in conversations with policymakers is the question of what communities can do to attract the most talented individuals to the field of teaching. It’s an issue he’s tried to influence through the Teachers of Promise Foundation, which he founded in 2010 to help identify and support potential future teachers.

“If we continue to ask that question, and try to answer it by either rewriting or replacing or conceiving policy and procedure, then we’ll get to where we need to be,” he said.

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