Chris Holmes Earns Missouri Teacher of the Year Honors, the Second in a Row for Truman Alumni
Nearly 150 years have passed since the University was founded with the goal of educating teachers, but some things never change. Truman still produces top-notch teachers, as proven by consecutive Missouri Teacher of the Year recipients.
Chris Holmes (’90), a journalism teacher at Hazelwood West High School near St. Louis, was named the state’s Teacher of the Year in August. His award comes on the heels of Jamie (Smith) Manker (’98, ’00) earning the honor the previous year.
For Holmes, the award itself might not be as much of a surprise as the fact that he ever became a teacher in the first place. He originally had designs on a career solely in journalism.
“I was planning a lifetime of writing, covering news from every corner of the world,” he said.
It was not until his journalism advisor at Truman, Les Dunseith, asked him to present a session on newswriting to prospective students that he felt the urge to teach.
“That’s when it happened. When I was speaking to this group of wide-eyed teenagers,” he said. “Something clicked. Then sparked. Then caught fire. That utterly unique feeling of connecting with kids has been burning ever since.”
Holmes would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Education degree with a specialization in journalism, a field not usually explored by future teachers.
“If memory serves me correctly, I was the only education major studying journalism during my time at Truman,” he said. “However, my professors were flexible in providing opportunities for me to focus on journalism, while the majority of my peers studied core subjects.”
Holmes tries to maintain flexibility in his own teaching curriculum. He was the catalyst in creating a journalism field trip program at Hazelwood West. Last year, he took a group of students to the border town of Weslaco, Texas, so they could examine, firsthand, the topic of immigration reform and explore teenagers’ perspectives on the issue (Truman Review, Summer 2014). He hopes to plan similar trips with a variety of locations and topics.
When the events in nearby Ferguson, Mo., were taking center stage in the national news, Holmes visited the area in person so he could fully understand and discuss the matter with his students when the school year started. While some teachers might shy away from controversial topics with high school students, Holmes thinks it is important, and he feels it might actually give him a distinct advantage in inspiring them.
“The students are instantly engaged because it may seem more real or relevant to them than traditional subjects,” Holmes said. “I suspect that getting ninth graders excited about algebra is much more difficult than what I do.”