West High's own recognized as Montana teacher of the year

2012-09-25T18:15:00Z 2012-09-26T17:03:44Z West High's own recognized as Montana teacher of the yearBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Thinking about how best to describe his government teacher, Miles Otstot went with intellect.

"She's incredibly smart," he said. "And she's always making jokes."

Otstot's teacher, Eileen Sheehy, who teaches U.S. government at West High, was named 2013 Montana Teacher of the Year by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation this week.

In the front office at West, the whiteboard tucked back by the teachers' mailboxes was decorated with a big "Congratulations!" written in purple marker.

During Sheehy's last period of the day on Tuesday, student council officers slipped into her classroom and hung a giant pink banner on the wall congratulating her for the award.

"It is just such an honor," Sheehy said.

Sheehy was nominated for the award by her colleague Sue Bach, who teaches English at West. For Sheehy, earning Bach's respect was honor enough. Sheehy described her as the "best teacher in America."

"I teach with some really great teachers," Sheehy said.

And in that respect, it's satisfying to have the award come to Billings. For Sheehy, it shows the rest of the state that there is quality within School District 2.

"I think this is so great for Billings," she said. "This is nice for Billings Public Schools." 

Dave Cobb, her principal, is pretty sure it's the first time West High has been home to Montana's teacher of the year.

"It is big news for our school," he said. "We are proud. She is an exceptional teacher."

Her students cheered when they heard the news and cheered again when they saw that the news would disrupt class and they'd get out of doing an in-class assignment.

Kendal Jacobsen, a senior in Sheehy's Advanced Placement government class, has no doubt about her teacher's skills.

"She's pretty stellar," Jacobson said.

Jacobsen, along with Otstot and classmate Chris McDonald, described Sheehy as eccentric "in a good way" and energetic. She seems to effortlessly keep her class engaged and find innovative ways to teach sometimes complex ideas.

"It's definitely one of my favorite classes," Otstot said.

For McDonald, one of Sheehy's greatest strengths is her ability always to be teaching, even when it looks like she's not. 

"Even when she's off topic, she's on topic," he said.

As the state's 2013 Teacher of the Year, Sheehy will represent Montana at the National Teacher of the Year event in Washington, D.C., later in the school year.

Sheehy was one of three teachers statewide to make it to the final round of nominations. The other two teachers -- LeAnne Yenny, a math and science teacher at Sacajawea Middle School in Bozeman, and Linda Ballew, a media literacy and journalism teacher at Great Falls High School -- will be recognized as finalists.

The three will receive their awards Oct. 18 in Billings in conjunction with the annual MEA-MFT Educators' Conference.

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