McKee presented with Superintendent’s Honor Roll award

North Penn Television


Image courtesy of Erin Crew

HONOR ROLL: North Penn High School English teacher Mrs. Ellen McKee speaks at Lit Fest on February 19, 2014. McKee was recently presented with the Superintendent’s Honor Roll Award.

Tara Sorman, Executive Editor

TOWAMENCIN – Two steps into the room of North Penn High School’s Mrs. Ellen McKee, I feel as though I have unwittingly stumbled upon some kind of secret club for literary enthusiasts, hidden in the most unlikely of places: an eleventh grade classroom. Students huddle in clusters of desks, intently discussing the work of the moment in hushed tones, large cardboard flashcards teeter in an impressive tower on a desk at the front of the room, and every wall is plastered with quirky depictions of classic literature in every form.

It is no overstatement to say that McKee wholeheartedly loves her job, and it is not hard to see that her enthusiasm is inescapably contagious to her students. This, among a myriad of other reasons, is why she was nominated and selected to receive distinction on the Superintendent’s Honor Roll last week.

This award is a particularly high honor for the few North Penn faculty members it honors, as it is none other than fellow colleagues who nominate potential winners through letters of recommendation. The collective input of the district’s staff is reviewed by the Superintendent, in this case Dr. Curt Dietrich, and an anonymous committee made up of contributors from the North Penn Education Association, the North Penn Education Support Personnel Association, and the Employee Representative Group in order to select the winners.

McKee was moved by this particular criterion, especially since, as eleventh grade teachers, her colleagues are often already inundated with long to-do lists of recommendation letters for former students. “To me it means somebody felt strongly enough about me to put my name out there,” she said. “That means a lot to me that a peer would feel that way, because to sit down and write a letter about somebody takes a long time…I’m touched and honored that somebody thought that much of me to do that.”

Even with the personal nature of the award in mind, however, there is no question that McKee has proved herself deserving of honor on behalf of her devotion to education. As a highly effective, widely respected teacher as well as the Head Coordinator for popular North Penn events such as the annual Lit Fest and Vocab Bowl, McKee’s creative approach to learning makes her a natural choice for this award.

Perhaps this passionate attitude toward education simply runs in the family – McKee is one of a long line of successful teachers. “I am the daughter of a teacher, the granddaughter of an English teacher, the niece of an English teacher, the wife of an English teacher, and now the mother of an English teacher,” she said. “My mother was a beloved elementary teacher, and I watched her all of my life and always admired her work. She was a teacher who really took the time to find the kids who were having struggles and to make connections with them, to help kind of shine a light on them and help them to see themselves in a more positive light. I also had a couple of excellent high school teachers who made the literature completely relevant…I just fell in love with literature and I like working with kids.”

While McKee seems to have been fated for success as an educator, she insists that there is no all-encompassing formula for becoming an effective teacher. Having experienced an endless variety of teaching styles through her colleagues, the only universal assertion McKee can make regarding good teachers is that there is no easy way to be one.

“Every day I feel like I learn something new. It is such a hard job. I know that from the view of a student it seems pretty easy, but to do this job effectively is exhausting, and it is relentless. It’s like running five business meetings a day, sometimes with an unwilling audience, covering material that they may or may not have an interest in. So I am part salesman: I have to sell all this to them, but I have to organize it so that it’s in a way that they can understand it. And I have to know their brains well enough to know what form I need to put it in – do I need to sing it? Dance it? Write it? Have them write it? Have them discuss it? There’s a million different variables and I don’t think anybody ever has the prescription for a good teacher.”

She expressed her gratitude, however, to have the opportunity to work with so many good teachers in her position at North Penn. As an eleventh grade English teacher, McKee is a part of tightly-knit group of teachers who work closely with each other to accomplish necessary goals with their students in the face of a daunting myriad of standardized tests. While common in elementary and middle schools, this kind of day-to-day connection with other teachers is not always the norm at the high school level, and this support system is a feature McKee is particularly grateful for.

“Another joy of teaching is the colleagues. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had, myself, some really great mentors through the years and some really great colleagues,” she said. “I co-teach with Mrs. Becky Poole: she’s a Special Ed teacher, and she has taught me so much about giving the time necessary for kids who need more time and processing. I have a tendency to rush and go quickly, and she slows me down, and I think I have become much more effective with Special Ed kids who learn differently. She’s been a great support, and it’s so much fun – she has taught me that two are better than one…We have so many moments where, when the kids get it, we can look at each other and give each other the thumbs up.”

With a network of talented faculty among a host of other resources, North Penn is an ideal atmosphere for a driven educator like McKee. Unique and innovative ideas for a different approach to the curriculum thrive within the halls of the high school, and McKee was quick to express her appreciation for the opportunities that abound at North Penn, specially thanking the administration for prioritizing a creative and open-minded attitude toward education.

“With Mr. Hynes, I have always had a Principal who has said yes to all my crazy ideas, and that doesn’t always happen in education. [Administration] can find a million reasons to say no, but Mr. Hynes: ‘Vocab Bowl? That sounds great!’ ‘Lit Fest? Okay!’” said McKee. “And all the administrators showed up [to the Vocab Bowl], which is very powerful for the kids. Mr. Broxterman even did the Dance Contest…They show their support for the kids and show that you can have fun at school.”

Surrounded by colleagues who support her educational endeavors, McKee has been met with resounding success in her teaching methods as well as in the sizeable events she organizes, such as Lit Fest and the Vocab Bowl. The Superintendent’s Honor Roll is an award that seems only fitting for McKee, as students and staff alike undeniably hold ample respect for her earnest devotion to education and her students.

“I love making stars out of my kids – even if it’s in a weird thing, which is why I do the Vocab Bowl…because they really start off with a very superficial understanding of their vocab words, and we work for three weeks ahead of time and they really dig in. I think they surprise themselves,” says McKee. “My favorite part about the job is…finding a way to show a student something positive about themselves, and a really good moment is when they learn something and they make a connection and I see a light go on. That’s an awesome moment.”