By Jack Chavez
(April 1, 2021) To win a Teacher of the Year award in any year is significant. But to win it after a year when little of the traditional learning experience applied is a distinguished honor.
Such was the experience for Worcester Technical High School instructor Aarti Sangwan, who earned the Worcester County Teacher of the Year Award during a virtual ceremony on March 26.
This was the second year that the covid-19 pandemic has prevented an in-person gathering for the annual event, typically held in Ocean City.
“It’s very exciting (to win this award),” Sangwan said. “I’m a very proud employee of the Worcester County Public Schools system and I’m looking forward to representing our county at the state level.”
By winning the award, Sangwan is automatically nominated along with the other county- and Baltimore City-level Teachers of the Year for the state-level award, which will be announced in the fall.
“The county couldn’t have chosen a better person to represent all the teachers of Worcester County,” Worcester Tech Principal Tom Zimmer said. “(Sangwan) really gives a lot of effort to help her students find success and she is equally as wonderful an individual. Students love her, staff loves her and she’s just outstanding. I really believe she has a legitimate shot to win state Teacher of the Year.”
A native of India, Sangwan, 41, earned her bachelor’s degree in electronics with a minor in physics in 2001. In 2004, she earned her master’s degree in computer science from Western Illinois University.
She began her professional career working various jobs in database administration and project-based employment including web design, Oracle programming and database building.
In 2011, Sangwan’s family moved to Salisbury after her husband accepted a position at TidalHealth. Around the same time, her children started their elementary education at Westside Intermediate School in Hebron. It was here that Sangwan initially became involved in education.
“I did 4-H Club, I taught programming to children at the elementary level,” she said. “The program was very successful … and I brought that experience to other (Wicomico County) elementary schools.”
That work earned Sangwan a Governor’s Citation. She enrolled in Salisbury University’s Masters of Arts and Teaching program in 2013 and graduated in 2015, the same year she accepted a position at Worcester Tech to teach AP Physics.
While completing her master’s program, Sangwan earned a “Teacher of Promise” recognition, which is given to students who demonstrate exemplary work throughout their program.
An aspect of that recognition is that on the night it is awarded, at an event sponsored by the Maryland Department of Education, Teachers of Promise are paired with a Teacher of the Year winner for a year in which the latter serves as a mentor to the former. Sangwan will now have the opportunity to experience this event from the other side when it occurs this fall.
“Even then, I was really motivated and wondered when maybe I’ll reach that level of exemplification where I might earn (a Teacher of the Year award),” Sangwan said. “It just makes me nostalgic looking back and thinking about that evening.”
Today, Sangwan teaches calculus-based AP physics to seniors, principles of engineering to sophomores and computer science essentials to freshmen.
She is involved in after-school activities such as Science Olympiad, an international platform devoted to improving science-based learning in a competitive environment.
Sangwan has taken Science Olympiad teams, based at Stephen Decatur High School, to compete at the state level at Johns Hopkins University for the last three years. She is also involved with a Science Olympiad program at Stephen Decatur Middle School.
Sangwan is involved in the Girls Coding Club, which promotes female representation in computer science. The project gives girls an opportunity to understand and see computing in a different aspect and enables them to explore the field of computer science, she said.
“I believe scientific literacy gives every individual an understanding and outlook to answer questions around themselves,” Sangwan said. “It makes them a better problem solver.”
Like many teachers, Sangwan has a strong passion for her work. The ability to connect with students and share her passion for her fields of expertise are strong motivators, she said.
“It’s her passion,” said Silviya Gallo, who teaches math, engineering and geographic information systems at Worcester Tech. “She is so passionate about spreading knowledge to young kids that it shines through. She teaches so many subjects and in every one of these different subjects you can see her passion through all of it.”
Being able to mold students’ curiosity, answering their questions and demonstrating that knowledge of scientific concept and striving to be a better learner can make every individual a better citizen, Sangwan said.
“I love my job and say to my students often that I am the educator I am because I have wonderful students who are in my classroom to learn, take risks, ask questions and create a culture that is conducive to everybody with respect to each other and giving each other the freedom to grow and learn,” Sangwan said.
Though Teacher of the Year is a personal award, Sangwan is amazed at how everyone involved in the institution of learning has created innovative methods to ensure the learning community remained connected and cohesive.
“Whichever capacity we serve in, whether we’re a student, parent, educator, guidance counselor or bus driver, (the pandemic) pushed everyone into thinking out of the box and coming up with the new policy for (distance learning),” she said. “That experience will make them a better person in every aspect.”
The other nominees for Worcester County Teacher of the Year were: Caleb Wilson, Stephen Decatur Middle School; Laura Wheeler, Showell Elementary School; Lauren Walker, Pocomoke Elementary School; Nicholas Traud, Snow Hill High School; Jennifer Taylor, Pocomoke High School; Stacey Russell, Cedar Chapel Special School; Melissa Reid, Buckingham Elementary School; Ellen Masters, Berlin Intermediate; Kurt Marx, Stephen Decatur High School; Cara Kurtz, Snow Hill Middle School; Catherine (Kitty) Herr, Ocean City Elementary School; Beverly Hart, Pocomoke Middle School; and Mia Byrd, Snow Hill Elementary School.