Hafer won over 19 other finalists, one from each district and a charter school representative. All finalists receive $2,000.
In addition to winning $5,000 to use for his students, Hafer pockets an extra $5,000 prize.
This is the 60th year in a row the recognition has been given out.
Ashley Lockwood, a fifth-grade teacher at Lulu Ross Elementary in Milford School District, took home the award last year.
As usual, the former teacher of the year gives some words of encouragement for the new awardee.
“The best part of this experience is that it’s never over,” she said. “It never ends. This is truly just the beginning.”
The opportunities will change, she said, “but the responsibility to outlive teaching and advocate for students will always be your work to do.”
“To represent Delaware, my home… will always be the greatest honor of my life,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much for all of your support.”
Hafer took the stage and thanked his administrative staff, Appo school district, as well as his family.
“The biggest thing I take away from this experience is that I’ve learned a lot about how important it is to build those connections,” Hafer said. “Look at all of the 20 candidates, and everyone talked about the idea that building connections and creating an educational space where students are excited to learn and connected with the real world is going to lead to really meaningful education.”
When students break norms, Hafer said, schools should develop consequences with students that help them restore harm done and learn from mistakes.
“The grading systems we use should align with this growth mindset,” he said. “Each day we need to remind our students they matter, listen to their concerns and allow them to guide their learning.
The ultimate goal, he said, should be to have sufficient connections with Delaware’s students so that they feel comfortable being themselves and confident asking for support.
“Without these connections, other learning strategies and efforts to develop strong lessons will not meet the needs of all learners,” he said.
Hafer graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in molecular, cellular and developmental biology before earning his master’s degree in biology teaching from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He taught at schools in New York, Massachusetts and Michigan before joining the Middletown High School faculty in 2019.
The candidates were nominated by their districts or the Delaware Charter Schools Network during 2023 based on their superior ability to inspire students with a love of learning, exemplary demonstration of professional traits and strong sense of dedication and devotion to teaching.
Each nominee submitted an application exemplifying his or her teaching philosophy, and five Delaware Department of Education staff members independently evaluated each application.
A former Delaware Teacher of the Year and department staff member observed each candidate in the classroom as part of the process.
Taking into consideration the ratings from the application review and observations, as well as a recorded presentation by the nominees, another independent panel of non-department judges then selected Hafer as the winner.
2024’s teacher of the year nominees were:
Brandywine: Nader N. Makarious, Brandywine High (chemistry)
Caesar Rodney: Melissa Rapp, Caesar Rodney High (social studies)
Cape Henlopen: Rachel Peacock, Cape Henlopen High (chemistry)
Capital: Alexandra Griffith, William Henry Middle (English language arts and social studies)
Charter Network: Stephanie Trainer, Charter School of Wilmington (social studies)
Christina: Emily Szymanski, the Brennen School (early intervention)
Colonial: Michelle Reutter, John G. Leach School (special education)
Delmar: Lauren Webster, Delmar Middle (science)
Indian River: Kasey Revel, Sussex Central High (agriscience)
Lake Forest: Stephen West, Chipman Middle (social studies)
Laurel: Matthew Wood, Laurel High (agriscience)
Milford: Victoria Hudson, Benjamin Banneker Elementary (art)
New Castle County Vo-Tech: Tim Dorsey, Delcastle Technical High (science)
Polytech: Shannon Legg, Polytech High (automotive technology)
Red Clay Consolidated: Angela Morrow, Richey Elementary (fifth grade)
Seaford: Karent Díaz Ríos, Seaford Central Elementary (Spanish immersion)
Smyrna: Laura Massey, Clayton Elementary (reading intervention)
Sussex Tech: Anthony Varrato, Sussex Technical High (English language arts)
Woodbridge: Stephanie Sharp, Woodbridge Early Childhood Education Center (multilingual learners)
Photos of each nominee can be found here.
“I hope this evening has been as special for all of you as it has been for me,” Hafer said.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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