Denise Koontz’s passion for teaching began at an early age.
While growing up in the 1970s, Koontz would take advantage of recess to organize study groups or lead a mini-expedition to a nearby pond to collect guppies.
In class everyone was expected to sit quietly and produce the same type of work.
Koontz decided she would become a teacher and do things differently.
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Koontz, a fifth grade science and social studies teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School, is the 2014 Keller ISD Elementary Teacher of the Year.
She strives to make lessons engaging and interactive.
“I love when I’m able to bring kids into the science lab where they get to do hands-on lessons, and they’re excited and happy,” Koontz said.
Now in her 13th year as an educator, Koontz has been at Trinity Meadows for six years and spent five years at Chisholm Trail Intermediate School.
In addition to her regular classroom duties, Koontz founded a summer science camp at Trinity Meadows for incoming fifth graders.
Her goal is to promote a love of science and an interest in science careers.
“I hope that my kids will take away the knowledge that everyone can do science,” Koontz said. “It’s not for just a select few.”
Unlike Koontz, the Keller ISD Secondary Teacher of the Year “sort of fell into it.”
Mike Otto, an eighth grade history and English teacher at Trinity Springs Middle School, went to college planning to become a lawyer.
About five minutes after he finished the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), he realized he would rather teach.
“I think it’s an incredibly dynamic profession,” Otto said. “You never have the same day twice. You constantly have to think on your feet and deal with an incredible variety of needs.”
Otto has taught at Trinity Springs for seven years, half of his teaching career.
From his experience and intuition, he knows “what will and won’t work, what will hold their attention.”
For example, in a lesson on women’s suffrage, he asks students why some eighth grade girls “dumb themselves down” for boys and asks what the reformers would think about that practice.
Once students leave his class, he wants them to develop a palate for life-long learning.
“I don’t want them to take things at face value,” Otto said. “I want to provoke curiosity, make them criticize, question and analyze.”
The Teachers of the Year were announced on April 25 at the Keller ISD Education Foundation Inspiration Gala.
Each of Keller’s 39 campuses named a Teacher of the Year for their school and, after an application review process, five elementary and five secondary teachers were named finalists. The District Teachers of the Year were selected after an interview process with district administrators, parents and past honorees.
Koontz and Otto now represent Keller in regional Teacher of the Year competition.