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Denise Barnes prepared to be a teacher long before she truly realized she was going to be one.
As a little girl, Barnes and her peers regularly played school. And she always wound up as the teacher.
That interest persisted through high school, where Barnes had a math teacher named "Kitty" Jackson. A positive experience in Jackson's class helped convince Barnes not only to be a teacher, but to teach math.
Now Barnes has been recognized as one of the best in the area.
Barnes, who teaches geometry and Teacher Cadet classes at Lancaster High School, is the 2008 Celebrate Great Teaching winner for high school teachers in Lancaster County School District.
The award is the top honor for educators here. She is one of four teachers to receive the award from the district this year.
"It's motivational for me," said Barnes, who's been at Lancaster High for 12 years. "To know that my students nominated me. They thought enough of me and my teaching."
Barnes enjoys the structure and "straightforwardness" of geometry. You always have to think in sequence and be able to explain the information.
"It's more of a decision-making process," she said. "You have so much real-world application."
Barnes wants her students to realize how practical math is in daily life. She compares geometry to a foreign language.
"You have to understand the terminology to grasp it," she said.
Teacher and motivator
Barnes also teaches Teacher Cadet classes and oversees Lancaster High's Teacher Assistant Program, or TAP, which allows students interested in teaching to closely shadow a teacher.
It's an extension of the regular Teacher Cadet course.
Lancaster High senior Shani Harris has had Barnes for geometry and Teacher Cadet classes and now TAP.
Harris says Barnes is a great teacher because she takes time to explain information so all her students can understand. She likes the various hands-on classroom activities in Barnes classes, too.
"She makes her class challenging, but not to where you can't do it," Harris said. "She makes you want to put your best foot forward."
Barnes, a Lancaster native and Lancaster High graduate, says she enjoys helping her students. She has an open-door policy in which students are encouraged to come in for assistance any time they need it.
She tries to instill in her students that they can do anything, but only if they put their mind to it.
There's a poster that hangs over her head in her classroom that reinforces that thought. It reads:
"Do the best you can do. And you will be great, and you will do great things."
As that little girl, Barnes tried her best to be that great teacher while playing school. Years later, as her recent award my suggest, she's still doing the same.
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 283-1152