Among the Best in the Field

By Cahill, Julie | Techniques, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Among the Best in the Field


Cahill, Julie, Techniques


Each year the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) honors three of the best educators in the field. From innovative programs to outstanding community service to extraordinary dedication, these educators make an important contribution to career and technical education. Here's a look at ACTE's 1999 national award winners.

All Over the Map

Betty Phillips Vocational Teacher of the Year

Touring Tibet and sleeping in old Army barracks aren't prerequisites for teaching family and consumer sciences in Sullivan, Ind., but FACS teacher Betty Phillips says these experiences and many others like it have enriched the learning environment in her classroom.

A lover of travel, Phillips has studied abroad at nearly every opportunity since her first excursion in 1966. She's been to Africa, China, Yugoslavia, Spain and a host of overseas destinations to learn about their cultures, traditions and social mores. Phillips brings these international perspectives to her FACS students at Sullivan High School, where she's been teaching for 23 years.

During a drug and alcohol abuse/misuse unit, for example, Phillips explains to students the consequences of drug abuse and underage drinking in the United States. Then she'll make comparisons with other countries that may have much more lenient or strict rules.

Phillips is in the middle of planning her next trip--her first visit to India. Though her travel is mostly for vacation now, she says she'll inevitably find something she can incorporate into her curriculum. "There's always something to share. Foods, music, traditions, expressions and gestures, jobs and economic situations and agriculture," Phillips says. "Each can be used to give students perspective on their own culture and the many other cultures that they have yet to experience."

Before becoming a teacher, Phillips was a cosmetologist for five years. But when her husband left the military to go back to school, Phillips decided to join him.

"There was a move in the late 1950s and early 1960s for women to go back to school. I was making a good living as a hairdresser, but with my husband in college, I wanted to expand my knowledge too," she says. "But I will always be able to fall back on my skills in cosmetology and still keep my license current."

After four decades as a FACS teacher, Phillips says she's still constantly adapting to changes in the field. A program that once focused on homemaking and family economics has expanded to include balancing work and family responsibilities and using technology for consumer awareness.

"Aside from technology, the change of focus from homemaking in the sixties to more career preparation and women working outside the home has been the most drastic change in my curriculum," Phillips says.

Her FACS program includes such courses as family management, beginning and advanced clothing design, child development and interpersonal relations. In each class she has made a strategic effort to integrate technology and global perspectives with traditional skills.

Phillips points to her favorite quote, by Gandhi, to illustrate her philosophy of teaching: "`Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever."

"We are constantly learning, and I can learn as much from my students as they can from me," Phillips says. "My students and I can share all of these experiences together."

A Healthy Career Change

Natalie Lavender Outstanding New Vocational Teacher

After six years in the health care field, Natalie Lavender says she threw her hands up and decided her career was not headed in the direction she wanted.

"As an administrator in health care, my job was all paperwork and legal requirements and I decided that this was not what I wanted to do with my life," Lavender says. So she began a little introspection to determine what she really wanted to do--something she enjoyed and that came naturally. …

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