Tammie Pennington is a rock star in the classroom, just ask her students.
Pennington, 44, a Windsor High School biology teacher, even makes biology fun for students who don’t particularly like it.
Carson Barnhart, a 15-year-old sophomore in Pennington’s pre-AP biology class, admits that science isn’t on the top of her list of favorites.
“Science isn’t really my thing, but I definitely get it.” Barnhart said. “She’s a great teacher, and we have a lot of fun. There’s a lot of hands-on, and I really like the hands-on thing. In the classroom, she’s really relaxed, and she’s always around us. You can have a real conversation with her, whether it be about biology or something different. She’s very personable, and is really good at making you understand anything.”
Pennington, who has been teaching at Windsor for the past seven years, was nominated by former biology teacher and Windsor resident Kathleen Jones and another anonymous person for the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award in Colorado.
“It’s a huge honor to be nominated,” Pennington said.
Jones said she first met Pennington when she was teaching at the AP Institute at UNC one summer.
“She just was so into it and asking questions,” Jones said.
Jones, who was nominated twice for the award, said she’s heard a lot about Pennington.
“Everything I hear around town and from people who had her say she’s just a wonderful teacher,” Jones said. “She has really changed that science department around.”
The award is given to one biology or life science teacher (grades 7-12) in Colorado through the National Association of Biology Teachers. One teacher from each of the 50 U.S. states, Canada, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are honored with the award, and each one is given a pair of precision binoculars, a microscope from Leica Microsystems Inc., and a Video Flex Camera System from Ken-A-Vision. The winners also will be recognized at a special ceremony at the association’s national convention.
“It’s like the highest thing I think that can happen,” Pennington said. “I know I do a good job. I love my job. I love my kids. I know they learn a lot, but to get recognition from community members like Kathleen and then to have these people go out of their way to come watch, to pay homage to what you do, that doesn’t happen very often. It’s that piece of recognition that makes it all worthwhile.”
The award committee came to Windsor to interview Pennington and observe her teaching style on Friday. Two retired biology teachers and two retired research scientists from Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins were on hand. The committee members wouldn’t say how many teachers they’re observing and interviewing this year, but they do go throughout the state trying to find the award-winning teacher.
This wouldn’t be the first time Pennington has won a teacher of the year award. Pennington also has been awarded the teacher of the year by the Colorado Association of Science Teachers during her time in Windsor.
Stavan Vanscoy, 15, a sophomore in Pennington’s pre-AP biology class, said he’s learned so much from Pennington.
“She has a great teaching style. I think she elaborates well, and overall the way she explains things we can begin to do things on our own rather than have to always ask her for help,” he said.
Tyler Rouse, 16, another sophomore in Pennington’s pre-AP biology class, said Pennington explains everything to her students.
“You can tell she really loves science,” Rouse said. “She brings out all these things and shows us. This is one of my favorite classes. I didn’t even know I liked science that much until this year.”
Pennington, who originally planned to go into the medical profession until a college adviser at the University of Northern Colorado steered her toward teaching, said her passion for teaching is the most important thing.
“Every day, whether I’m tired or I have a sore throat, it doesn’t matter because this is my job,” said Pennington, who grew up outside of Pierce and graduated from Highland High School in 1986. “Whatever it is that I’m talking about, I care deeply about. I think it’s fun, and it’s exciting and it makes you a better citizen to have that scientific literacy. I just want to convey that to kids. I want them to leave my classroom feeling like they have a good science education.”
Windsor High School principal Michelle Scallon said Pennington is a stellar teacher.
“She is a very humble and intelligent woman,” Scallon said. “She is great with kids, and great with staff. She’s phenomenal in the classroom, and we’re just so proud to have her on our staff. She brings an energy and new ideas. She’s an amazing woman. She always has a smile on her face. She has that passion.”
Hannah West, a Windsor senior and a Boettcher Scholarship finalist, had Pennington for general biology her sophomore year and for AP biology her junior year.
“The No. 1 thing I can say is that she’s the most passionate teacher I’ve ever met,” West said. “She offers so many different opportunities for learning, that it’s incredible. She has pioneered a lot of different activities through Windsor High School. She has organized field trips to both the zoo and to the cadaver lab at CSU. She understands that academics are important, but so are experiences outside of the classroom. Her and chemistry teacher, Mr. (Glenn) Peterson, co-organize a trip every two years. The last two years they went to Costa Rica, and this year they’re going to Peru. She really to tries promote a world view of everything she’s teaching.”
West said everything Pennington does as a teacher is because of her passion.
“She just encourages all of her students to get involved in something they’re passionate about,” West said. “I cannot think of a better person to receive any sort of award. She’s an incredible teacher. She’s by far one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”