Two teachers were honored at the annual Baylor University School of Education Senior Recognition Banquet on April 25. Following tradition, Baylor School of Education seniors had the opportunity to nominate teachers who had been influential in their lives. Students submitted a nomination essay about their teacher, and the awarded educators were chosen by a Baylor faculty committee.
This year, Steve Willemssen of Aurora, Illinois, and Andy McCoy of Georgetown, Texas, were honored with the Baylor School of Education’s “Most Memorable Teacher” award.
Andy McCoy was nominated by Ashlyn McKenzie, an All-level Special Education major who took Mr. McCoy’s English class as a senior at Georgetown High School. In her nomination essay, McKenzie admits that she had been somewhat checked out from school until she began class with Mr. McCoy.
“As a teacher, mentor and confidant, Mr. McCoy taught me more about life and the real world than any other teachers I have ever had, combined,” McKenzie said.
Before his teaching career, McCoy traveled the world for six years as an education communication technology specialist. With 30 years of education experience, McCoy has taught in Hutto ISD, Round Rock ISD, Phlugerville ISD, and currently teaches English at Georgetown High School in Texas.
“Mr. McCoy had a way of connecting students to things that could have been so difficult to grasp or reach with the life experience we had so far in our short 17 or 18 years, and he always helped each student get there,” McKenzie said. “He also always had a life story that connected to whatever we were talking about in class.”
Upon receiving the award, McCoy reminisced on the time shared with McKenzie and the positive influence she had over the class.
“Ashlyn was the same back then as she is now. When she was in my class long ago, I was amazed with how much energy she had and how helpful she was with everything and everybody,” McCoy said.
McKenzie continues to hold on to the wisdom and lessons learned in McCoy’s English class and values the impact he had on her life and career path more and more each year.
“His openness and willingness to meet students where they are and not to force them to be something that they aren’t is one of the things that inspired me to become a teacher who hopefully follows in his footsteps,” McKenzie said.
Steve Willemssen was nominated by Alyssa Strzalka, a Secondary English Education major, who had Willemssen all four years of her high school career through band and extracurricular activities. In her nomination essay, Strzalka highlighted the many hours spent after school in the band room, venting and asking for life advice from her favorite teacher.
“He saw us grow and was a part of the joy and hardships that came throughout those years,” Strzalka said.
Willemssen grew up in Rochester, Minnesota. He earned his Bachelor of Music Education from Valparaiso University in Indiana and his Master of Music Education from Northwestern University in Illinois. Willemssen is currently in his 12th year of teaching high school band and orchestra at Wheaton Academy, a private Christian high school in the Chicago area. He and his wife, Katie, also serve as co-music directors at their church, Wheaton Bible Church.
Strzalka always admired the way Willemssen was able to devote quality time to both his students and family, hoping to model her own habits in a similar fashion.
“Some days, he would stay long after the end of school just to talk with us. Other days he would kick us out of the band room so he could get home to spend time with his kids,” Strzalka said. “Now having completed a full year walking in a teacher’s shoes, I remember these times and see how important it is to balance priorities in order to fully invest in those around you.”
Additionally, Strzalka is thankful for the spiritual guidance Willemssen gave, and the mature example of how to live a Christ-centered life.
“Encouragement doesn’t just include advice, but also prayer requests, book recommendations, and devotion studies,” Strzalka said.
Willemssen, honored to receive this award, had kind words and memories to share about Strzalka also. During her senior year, Strzalka organized a fundraiser at school in order to donate books to a small library in Guatemala.
“It was a beautiful representation of Alyssa’s ability to join her compassionate view of others with her passion for literature,” Willemssen said.
By Andi Risk
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For more than 100 years Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, superintendents, psychologists, health education professionals, academics/scholars and more. With more than 50 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.
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Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.