NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Special education teacher Michelle Darling was surprised at last week's Drury High School graduation with the Marion B. Kelley Teacher of the Year Award.
The award is given in honor of Kelley, a teacher who retired as principal of Johnson and Sarah T. Haskins schools. It is presented each year to the educator who exemplifies the ideal teacher through their dedication, skills and understanding of children.
Darling was called to the stage in the Drury auditorium to a thunder of applause by Superintendent Barbara Malkas to be presented with a commemorative plaque and a gift certificate for $100 for school classroom supplies.
The current co-president of the North Adams Teachers Association was selected for having "gone above and beyond this year," Malkas read, pointing to how Darling had given up her summer vacation last year to help plan the safe return to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"She has tirelessly answered questions from her colleagues across the district, not just at Drury, to make sure everyone's voice was heard and represented and she does this solely out of the kindness of her own heart and because she wants to make sure our teachers are safe," Malkas read from a peer who nominated Darling. "Earning teacher of the year would be the best way to show her our appreciation and to say thank you for working so hard for her students and colleagues as her dedication to the North Adams Public School community does not go unnoticed."
Darling started with the school district as a paraprofessional in 1990 and permanent substitute, and became a teacher seven years later. She has been involved with the softball team for many years and is now varsity coach. Malkas said her dedication to Drury began while she was a student there.
The district administration had wholeheartedly agreed with the nomination, the superintendent said. "Ms. Darling exemplifies teacher leadership. However, her leadership ability has always been a part of her work at North Adams Public Schools."
Pulling from an early letter of recommendation, Malkas explained how Darling had been assigned to one student but then had worked with others in the classroom so that her student was not singled and so that all students would benefit from her help.
"This created an inclusive classroom environment that benefitted the class and most especially her assigned student," Malkas said. "She willingly and intuitively took on this role in the classroom at a time when special education was often considered a barrier to participating in the classroom."
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