Teachers Receive $20,000 Awards for Excellence

Wake Forest University recognized two outstanding educators with a $20,000 award that was announced during the university’s opening convocation this morning.

Grace Elizabeth Hancock, a first-grade teacher in Raleigh, and Rebecca K. Malenkos, a high school English teacher in Carmel, Ind., were named the 1996 recipients of the Marcellus Waddill Excellence in Teaching Awards.

The awards were presented to the winners by Wake Forest University President Thomas K. Hearn Jr.

The Waddill awards recognize outstanding Wake Forest alumni in the teaching profession. Annually, a primary and a secondary teacher are presented $20,000 each.

In 1994, New York businessman David Waddill established the gift in honor of his father, Marcellus Waddill, who has taught mathematics at Wake Forest for 34 years. This year’s winners were chosen from a field of 43 nominees nationwide. To compete, nominees must submit lesson plans, letters of recommendation and essays. Finalists also are interviewed and videotaped while teaching.

After graduating from Wake Forest in 1978, Hancock began working with disabled students. She continued working with challenged students, including those with mental and emotional disabilities, until 1984 when she joined the faculty at Ravenscroft School, an independent K-12 school in Raleigh.

Winning $20,000 for doing what she loves was an honor and a surprise, Hancock said. As a first-grade teacher, Hancock is more used to the daily rewards presented by curious children, such as caterpillars and other interesting finds.

“I guess I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher,” Hancock said when reflecting on her career.

Hancock values her role in helping children have a “good start” on their educational journey and has learned children are “among our best teachers.”

In her essay, Hancock wrote, “When I think about the people who have influenced me the most as an educator, I must include my students. Young children enter the academic world with all the attitudes and values to be successful learners. They enter their early childhood years trusting that at any moment a door will open and let in the future. They will move on, and I believe a good teacher will be left smiling, and holding the key.”

Malenkos shares Hancock’s zeal for teaching. A love of literature and an affinity for high school students led Malenkos into the classroom.

Malenkos began her career in 1975 after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Wake Forest. She joined Carmel High School in 1987. Previously, she taught at schools in North Carolina and Texas.

When asked what makes an effective teacher, Malenkos noted the importance of engaging students in their lessons.

“I think teaching is really an art form,” she said. For Malenkos, who grew up dancing and appeared in some high school musicals, teaching involves performance-like qualities to ensure classroom time is productive and enjoyable.

For example, her sophomore English students are treated to a visit with Olivia L. Clemens, the wife of Samuel Clemens, better-known as Mark Twain. Malenkos dons a Victorian costume and assumes the role of Olivia to discuss the writer’s life.

“I am an individual who loves change and challenge, and I want this to be apparent in the classroom,” Malenkos wrote in her essay. “If I am bored with a particular lesson, I know the students must be as well. Therefore, I do my best to keep myself and my students entertained, motivated and involved.”

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