CAMDEN — While the pandemic may have kept many teachers and students off-balance the past two years — with both online and in-person instruction — Elise Knable embraced the challenge, supporting her students and giving them a sense of self-worth when they needed it most.
For her efforts, the Caesar Rodney High School career and technology teacher was honored by the National Society of High School Scholars as a finalist for the 2021 Educator of the Year award.
“It was exciting and just honestly an honor to know that, across the country, there are so many amazing educators that have always worked very hard and dedicated themselves to being passionate in their profession,” Ms. Knable said.
“Especially over the last few years, in the face of the pandemic and online learning and having so many adjustments that we had to make so quickly, to know that there are so many people who did the same thing that I did, and that I’m being honored, is just kind of a wow moment,” she added.
She was also impressed that she was recognized by NSHSS even though she doesn’t teach one of the core subjects.
“It’s also an honor to be able to represent — especially technology teachers and teachers of media, teachers of any type of field of creativity — and demonstrate that, although we teach something that is not necessarily considered a core subject, we still are helping our students to connect and helping them to learn and helping them to grow,” said Ms. Knable. “Hopefully, that will influence their success for the future.”
The NSHSS Educator of the Year award is presented to exemplary teachers who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to preparing students for success in college and in life.
The 10 finalists model best practices in teaching or administration inside and outside the classroom, are peer role models and demonstrate outstanding leadership and excellence in education.
Ms. Knable is still waiting to hear if she won the top award, which comes with a prize of $5,000. But just to be named to the top 10 is an honor in itself, she said.
Finding her niche
Ms. Knable began her journey with a passion for art and theater. After graduating from Caesar Rodney High, she attended college in that field for a short time but due to some life circumstances, she had to move home, losing all her scholarships.
She started over again at a local school, where her closest option was a film and media degree.
“So after I graduated, it was the bottom of the 2009 recession. I was faced with the ultimate decision of how do I support myself with this new degree I have and how do I find a job in the face of a recession? And what am I going to do?” she said.
“And the opportunity actually arose for me to apply, through the ARTC (Alternative Routes to Certification) program at the University of Delaware, to a school for a teaching position in the design field, even though I didn’t have a teaching degree.”
She saw this as her chance to take her passion in film, design, theater and media and use it to help influence future generations to be successful.
Eventually, for Ms. Knable, life came full circle, as she went from being the nervous student with all the questions at CR to teaching class and making herself available to her pupils.
“That’s where I started, and now, 13 years later, I’m now back teaching at my original high school where I graduated from — Caesar Rodney,” she said, “and I am again being able to take my passion and provide for my students something that they need all the time, and especially now, which is (in) a classroom where they are learning, they’re growing but most importantly, they know they’re cared for.
“And I think, in the end, that’s part of what has kept me teaching, even though it wasn’t my original path. I was able to take my passion, put it into a field to help others, which I’ve always believed in, and become somebody who can mentor students and help them for their own future at a different level than maybe what was available when I was a student.”
She now leads CR’s Audio Radio Video Engineering Design Technology Education program, available to all students.
Using real-world scenarios, participants are given opportunities to invent and innovate to solve technological problems.
Ms. Knable’s favorite part of her class is that, during classroom activities, students not only learn lessons specific to technical areas but also develop the “lifelong learning” skills of peer cooperation, safety procedures, math/science and problem solving.
Her students produce a weekly news broadcast on YouTube and develop videos for local businesses and organizations. The ARVED program at CR is the only one in Delaware working with PBS Student Reporting Labs to bring stories from area youth to the national spotlight.
ARVED pupils at CR have earned accolades across the country for their work.
In addition, Ms. Knable was recognized by the Delaware Federation of Women’s Press and received the University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship Innovative Educator’s Grant in 2019 and the Delaware STEM Educator Award in 2020. She also was named Teacher of the Year for Caesar Rodney High in 2020-21.
Furthermore, in her tenure as an educator, she has developed a curriculum for design technology that has been implemented in many high schools statewide.
Providing advice, direction, support
Ms. Knable also enjoys watching her students as they try to find a direction for their future. She is always ready to lend her knowledge of experience to whomever may want it.
“So I can talk with them about internships,” she said. “I can help prepare them through what they learn in my own coursework. I can even get them ready to take certain certifications.
“My students get opportunities to work in the field, with PBS Reporting Labs, with Delaware State Parks, with local businesses. At times, they acquire jobs through the work they do. In about two weeks, we’re going to be doing a job with a local organization that they’re going to get paid. So I think, along with being able to use my passion, I know that I’m also providing guidance for their own future, where they can find their passion in life and be successful.”
While she wasn’t sure where life would take her when she was sitting in class at CR, she is happy with how it all turned out, as a teacher at her alma mater.
“Sometimes, I think ‘gratifying’ can even be a word that does not always fit because it is a very hard profession,” Ms. Knable said. “It really truly is. In all honesty, nothing about our job is easy, but what makes it so rewarding is not just seeing our students grow but the connections with students.
“One (of my) students was struggling, and I said, ‘You doing OK?’ and he just explained, ‘Not really,’ and said, ‘You know, I was out earlier this month with COVID,’ which a lot of my students have dealt with. He said, ‘I’m just feeling like I’m drowning. I’m not sure what to do,’ and he and I kind of talked a little bit about how to look at a workload, how to break things down, so we don’t become overwhelmed and anxious. And being able to connect with him was another way where he’s not necessarily learning a skill in my class, but it’s something that might hopefully stay with him in his life.”
And her reward came a little later, she said, when that student told her he passed all his math quizzes and gave her a huge high five.