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First-graders in Courtney Fox's class at Mount Pleasant Elementary are understandably excited about being taught by Delaware's 'Teacher of the Year', but, truth be told, they weren't all that surprised that she received the honor.

"I thought she was the best teacher even before she was teacher of the year," said a girl. A boy chimed in: "She's the greatest teacher on the earth."

While strong teacher-student bonds are common, especially in the lower grades, it is quickly obvious

that the rapport between her and her charges is several notches above the ordinary. The respect the children exhibit is mutual.

The students "are an extension of who I am," Fox said.

Fox has taught first grade for 10 years and said she "can't imagine teaching anything else." That's because "first-graders make so much progress in a short amount of time." Growth achieved during that academic year is visibly greater than in any other, she explained.

Courtney Fox shares a story with her first-grade class.

Teaching itself is "more than just a job," she added. "Teaching is about developing relationships -- with the children, their families and my colleagues."

She has retained contact over the years with some of her former students, the oldest of whom are now in high school. She received several telephone calls and e.mail messages from them after her award was

announced.

It can be said that Fox was literally born and bred to teaching. Her grandmother, 96, is a retired teacher and her mother teaches in Pennsylvania. Her brother is the physical education teacher at Mount Pleasant Elementary and two cousins also teach.

Fox has had a lifelong connection with the Brandywine School District, having gone through Brandywood Elementary, Harlan Intermediate and Hanby Middle and graduated from Brandywine High. After earning her degree from the University of Delaware, she was hired by the district to teach in the kindergarten center at P.S. du Pont. A year later she moved to the first-grade assignment at Mount Pleasant. Since receiving the required certification four years ago, she has taught in the district's 'gifted and talented' students program, in which she was enrolled when a child.

The mother of two children of preschool age, she lives in the district.

Her students prepared this poster to commemorate the occasion.

Being selected as 'teacher of the year', she said, provides an opportunity "to spotlight the great things we have here in this district."

The Brandywine district, which was established in 1982, has had more 'teachers of the year' than any other district since inception of the statewide award in 1965, according to a spokesman for the Delaware Department of Education. The number of public school districts has varied since then. There presently are 19.

The award requires selection at the district level, followed by submission of a portfolio, classroom observation and judgment by an objective panel. State winners then are eligible for the national award, presented by the Council of Chief State School Officers, which Delaware has never received.

As it happens, Fox was in her second-grade class at Brandywood in 1986 when Doris Stevenson became the first of six  Brandywine honorees. The others were: Francis O'Malley, 1997; Lyn Newsom, 1999; Ronni Cohen, 2000; and Tanya Marcinkewicz, 2002.

Fox is a National Board-certified teacher -- a distinction considered the most prestigious in the profession. During the summers she travels around the country as a consultant for the Responsive Classroom instructional program, which Mount Pleasant Elementary pioneered.

She is beginning work on obtaining a masters degree and said eventually would consider going into education administration.

Meanwhile, Fox said, "I love what I do; I love teaching first grade; I love Mount Pleasant; and I love the Brandywine district."

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Posted on October 27, 2007

2007. All rights reserved.