By Kim Walter
If it weren't for Tara Mason's decision to drop everything and follow her passion, she probably wouldn't have recently received a prestigious recognition.
Mason, an English teacher at Central High School, has been named Shenandoah County Public Schools' 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year, and it's an award she doesn't take lightly.
"Oh, I was so surprised," Mason said during a recent interview. "There are so many deserving teachers just at my school alone, so it is an absolute honor."
Even though Mason's own mother was a teacher, when it came to choosing a major in college, her parents discouraged her from entering into a career in education.
"My mom saw all sides of the education world, and she knew it was a hard profession," Mason said.
While attending the University of Virginia, Mason decided to focus on physical therapy, and after two years of classes was accepted into the sports medicine program. The summer before she started, though, she realized the medical scene wasn't for her.
"I liked the idea of working with people and helping them to overcome something, but I just didn't like all the science," she admitted.
Mason switched her major to English, and began taking education classes as well. During UVA's Education Job Fair, Mason was only qualified for a provisional teaching license. However, that didn't stop her from getting a job.
Mason was intrigued by the Shenandoah County Public Schools setup at the job fair, and wound up talking to a representative for about a half hour. The woman, knowing that Mason was fresh out of school, decided to pass along her resume anyway.
The turnaround was quick, and Mason started at Central High School 12 years ago.
"You know, I thought I'd work here for a couple years and then move on, but Shenandoah County has sucked me in," she said.
During her time, Mason has taught a variety of English classes. She started an AP style program to familiarize students with the professional language.
Over the years, Mason realized that she works well with students at all levels of English, and decided to take on an English 11 class, which is driven by the goal of passing the Standards of Learning test.
The class has alerted her to the gaps in learning that still remain at the high school level.
"I don't mind working in terms of the SOL," Mason said. "It's made me realize how necessary remediation programs are. So many students fall through the cracks in these general classes."
She said her classroom holds students with a range of academic abilities.
"It's quite a tap dance to make sure I keep everyone interested and feeling like they are getting something out of the class," said Mason.
Mason refers to her students as "kids" -- she said it relates back to how important relationships are between her and the individuals she teaches.
With a few kids of her own, the teacher has also grown to realize the importance of patience.
"There are plenty of things that we as teachers don't know about kids, about their backgrounds," she said. "I champion their successes, I feel their defeats and I know their strengths and weaknesses, but sometimes you have to let kids be kids."
Mason, humbled by the nomination for Central's Teacher of the Year, said one of the best parts of winning is knowing that it represents her colleagues' view of her.
"Just to know that these other teachers and staff members think highly of me is enough," she said. "That's why it's so funny that I ended up here, because it definitely wasn't the plan. But as long as Shenandoah County will have me, I'll stay."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org