On the last Tuesday of school before the holiday break, one of the science teachers at Pasco Middle School (MS) in Dade City called fellow Pasco MS teacher Holly Mickler into her classroom to ask for some help judging science fair projects.
Mickler’s students were working on assignments with tutors, so she said she could leave her classroom for a few minutes to help.
That’s when Pasco County’s Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning, Pasco School Board member Megan Harding and several other officials from the school district and teachers union knocked on that other teacher’s classroom door.
The group was directed to the science fair, where they surprised Mickler with the news that among all of the teachers in Pasco County, she had been chosen as the District’s Teacher of the Year.
“It was a little embarrassing that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” Mickler laughs.
Mickler is a 14-year teaching veteran who commutes to work from Meadow Pointe each day. Although she lives in Wesley Chapel, she has spent her entire teaching career at Pasco Middle School.
She has taught exceptional education and language arts, and then served as the graduation enhancement and dropout prevention teacher before launching the school’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program about four years ago. As AVID coordinator, Mickler teaches students who choose to take the AVID elective class and coaches teachers on how to teach strategies for college, career and life readiness in their classrooms.
“Holly is a great example of what I look for in a teacher,” says Pasco MS principal Dee Dee Johnson, who was previously the principal at Wesley Chapel High. “She cares about her students, gets to know them, and believes in each of them. I’m extremely proud to have Holly as a teacher at Pasco Middle School, because she always goes above and beyond for our students, sets high expectations, and provides students with the resources needed to meet those expectations.”
Mickler says she thought long and hard about whether or not to complete the application for Pasco’s Teacher of the Year after being chosen as her school’s nominee.
“Once you’re selected at the school level, you’re given the option of deciding whether or not to take it to district level,” she says. “I don’t like bragging on myself, and that’s what it feels like, so I almost didn’t do it.”
But, Mickler says she also thought about her school’s reputation in the community, including things such as the recent removal of its previous principal, prompting Johnson’s move to the school.
“People need to recognize that we have incredible things going on here,” Mickler says. “I thought my application was a way to showcase that for others to see. I tried to respond in a way that people would see how awesome our kids are and how dedicated our staff members are.”
Ever humble, Mickler says she’s really no different than nearly all of the teachers in Pasco County, most of whom, she says, have great things happening in their classrooms, too.
“All of us are really working hard and are dedicated,” she says. “What we have in common and share is just a passion and a love for the kids.”
Mickler doesn’t have children of her own, so she calls her students her “babies,” making an emotional connection with them.
“They rely on me for academics, but also to help them through social issues and issues at home,” she says. “They trust me.”
Mickler is now Pasco’s nominee for the statewide Teacher of the Year, competition. That winner will be announced this spring.