Debbie Eyestone, Great Bend High School English teacher, has been awarded the prestigious Wolfe Teaching Excellence Award from the University of Kansas. The Wolfe Teaching Excellence Awards recognize excellence in secondary-school teaching through nominations by KU undergraduate seniors.
Eyestone was nominated by her former student, Paige Blevins, a senior in English.
Eyestone teaches Senior (Skills) English for students who have IEPs, are high risk or both, as well as Accelerated English III and Advanced Placement English classes.
“I obviously teach a diverse group of students whose educational needs are academically individualized,” Eyestone said. “Whether it is a skills class or an upper-level class, I always focus on making the curriculum applicable to students’ lives so that they can make connections and internalize the material and eventually apply their knowledge in creative and practical ways which are meaningful to them.
“My class expectations are high and I hold all students accountable for both their academic performance and behavior in the classroom,” she said.
In her nomination, Blevins wrote, “Mrs. Eyestone comes to my mind every time I sit down to write a sentence. Truly, even as I wrote this nomination essay I carefully crafted each clause to not include any of the dreaded ‘be’ verbs (is, am, are, was, were, been, being, been, have, had) that she drilled into our head from day one of her class in my junior year of high school.
“To this day, that threat of a grade deduction on our final research paper makes me edit my current essays and peers’ papers to reflect her teachings,” Blevins said. “A few of those words might have slipped in, but I hope I can show that her grammar rules stuck with me as much as the other lessons she taught me.
“The class she taught and still teaches, Advanced Placement English III, consisted of far more than a grammar lesson,” Blevins continued. “Every day was something new because everyone in my class wrote journals, discussed themes and flexed creative muscles under her wisdom. This wisdom was supplemented with witty jokes and narratives of her time as a child.
“Another chunk of our time found us in the library, researching a 10-page paper (an insurmountable feat as a 17-year-old and now common place as a senior in college) through traditional means,” she wrote. “This paper, barren of those awful ‘be’ verbs, included simple instructions: Write an original, opinionated research essay. Ideas flew around the room, but our task included the word ‘original,’ which barred us from topics such as abortion, marriage rights, death penalty, etc.
“My paper, arguing against war and violence, expanded my historical and moral perspective on life,” she noted. “I still keep a copy, with Mrs. Eyestone’s edits, in my desk drawer in my scholarship hall bedroom. I refer to it whenever I need a boost and it shows how far I have come in my writing.”
Tim Friess, Great Bend High School principal, wrote this about Eyestone in his support letter:
“To be a student here at GBHS and to have had contact with Debbie Eyestone is to be considered a blessing. She has a caring nature and yet, she does not “give” grades, she works with her students to give them multiple opportunities to “earn” their grades,” Friess wrote.
“Mrs. Eyestone is a positive influence on her colleagues as well as the students and, yes, she has and continues to make a lasting and very positive impression on this administrator. Words do not do justice for Debbie Eyestone and what she means to the people that she works with every day.”
In addition to receiving a plaque, Eyestone also received a monetary award and $1,000 for use at Great Bend High School.