GREENBELT –Two parts of Carolyn Marzke’s life are coming together now that she has been named the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Teacher of the year.
Marzke, a language arts and social studies teacher at Ridgecrest Elementary School, was named the PGCPS Teacher of the Year on April 11 during a ceremony at Martin’s Crosswinds. She was selected from a group of nine candidates, four of whom were finalists for the award.
“I’m feeling a lot of things at once,” she said. “I’m feeling honored, feeling humbled, feeling maybe just a little overwhelmed and excited. I love the idea of being a voice for great teachers and am excited to share with the rest of the world how much great teaching is going on in this county.”
Previous Sentinel Extraordinary Educator Karuna Skariah from Robert Goddard Montessori, Cheryl Strong from Judith P. Hoyer Montessori and Emily Freeman from Deerfield Run Elementary were also finalists for the award.
“Teachers, I tell people all the time, are what made a difference in my life and what make a difference in all our children’s lives,” said Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS. “These (nominated) teachers represent over 10,000 teachers in Prince George’s County and we could have a hundred more, or a thousand more, easily.”
Although Marzke will now represent PGCPS in the statewide Maryland Teacher of the Year competition, where she will battle with teachers from the other 24 counties for the title and the chance to represent the state for the national title, she admits she took an atypical path to becoming a teacher.
“It’s a little bit of a backwards career in some ways,” she said.
Marzke is a 10-year veteran of teaching at Ridgecrest Elementary, but before teaching she was more of a policy guru. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s in human biology from Stanford University.
She sought out a career in health policy where she focused on famine and its root causes, which she soon discovered were “poverty and lack of opportunities.” To make a difference, she said she went into education policy to really put her focus on young people and the effectiveness of educational programs.
However, she soon found that she was making decisions without first-hand knowledge of what was going on in the classroom and, she said, “felt jealous of all the schools” she visited and the teachers she interviewed who were making a “very direct, very obvious difference” in their communities.
“Maybe a report that I wrote went somewhere that perhaps influenced a funder in some way, but my work was very far removed from the front lines and where the real work happens,” she said. “I wanted to do the real work in education.”
She said it took her 10 years to figure out that she wanted, and could, teach and put her knowledge into practice.
“I don’t think I understood, or anyone understands until they start teaching, how enormously complex the job is. You’re juggling an awful lot of things including a lot of data. There’s a lot of moving parts and research is a lot like that,” Marzke said.
Ridgecrest Principal Denise Dunn thinks Marzke has thrived as an educator.
Not only has the fifth grade teacher taken on numerous roles in the school, including grade level chair, professional development lead teacher and school management roles, but she quickly became a force within the walls of the elementary school.
“Carolyn is amazing. She really is the epitome of what good teachers are. She is outstanding in every single way. She knows the curriculum, she knows her students and she knows how to teach the curriculum,” Dunn said.
A key aspect of Marzke’s strength, Dunn said, is her ability to seek out and build upon her student’s strengths and weaknesses to help them achieve personally. She also has a knack for bringing the content to life.
“I am very excited for her and for teaching because this is what Prince George’s County is all about,” Dunn said.
Now, Marzke will go on to the state competition where she hopes to show the rest of Maryland the “great teaching” coming out of Prince George’s County. And that is something Dunn, a former Teacher of the Year herself, can attest to.
“We like to think that we have one of the best teaching staff ever, but I know that my school is not in isolation across Prince George’s County,” she said. “We had nine outstanding nominees, but beyond the nominees they represent the 10,000. Because among those 10,000, I guarantee one tenth of them is a Carolyn Marzke, but they don’t get the opportunity to shine. And lucky for us, she does and she can spotlight them.”
For Marzke herself, she said she is excited to take on this new role because it means that both facets of her professional careers are coming together.
“To be able keep teaching and simultaneously kind of do some of that – circle back into the work I did before and bring what it’s like to be a teacher into the policy discussions – it’s really exciting. It’s like somebody was reading my mind,” she said. “They’re giving me my cake and letting me eat it too. I like that those two parts of my life and my world are going to get to come together, more closely than I thought they would.”
Still, the idea is still new for Marzke, who, when she jumped careers 10 years ago, would have never imagined she would be the PGCPS Teacher of the Year.
“Never. Not in a million years. Because I’m a career changer, I always feel like I’m behind the curve. I’m teaching with people who have been in the profession for 20, 25 years. They have this down and I still feel new,” she said.