Ms. Toni Hummel

Black Hills High School

2020 Inspirational Educator Winner

Ms. Hummel,

I could not for the life of me decide who to give this grant to. I had not been to “high school” in two years at this point, and I doubted half of my teachers would remember that I once sat in their classrooms exerting minimal academic energy and talking a lot. However, I thought about what it means to have an “inspirational” educator.

Certainly I have had notable educators. I have had funny, kind, mean, evasive, and a hundred more adjectives – each as applicable as the last, but I didn’t know if I could necessarily dub them inspirational.

Maybe it is the nature of an English class in general, the exploration of metaphors and similes and a raw look into humanity, or maybe it was the fact that I was able to perform an absolutely terrible rap in your class and still get a decent grade, but I decided that, of all my teachers, your classroom and your teaching has left the greatest impact on me.

There is a lot to say about the 180 (give or take a few) days I spent in your classroom freshman year, but summarization is a key literary skill and I think I will give it a shot. I learned a lot of strategies and techniques I still use today, and I imagine I will use well into the future. I cannot pick up a text without a pen in hand because annotating is second nature at this point. I look for motifs in every book I read, and every color mentioned is scrutinized for significance — although I have been able to recognize that sometimes blue curtains are just blue curtains.

More importantly, I am able to reflect on how well you taught. Hindsight can recognize a lot of things that 14 year old me couldn’t, such as your patience and humor, and the constant encouragement to expand our horizons. You taught tolerance and acceptance, and expected all of us to be better than even we thought we could be. Sometimes that meant getting an F on a reading quiz only to retake it and get a B+, and sometimes that meant discussing themes that reached far beyond the pages of our books. Themes that made us uncomfortable in the moment but better people in the long run.

So, I decided that of all the adjectives in the world, inspirational fit you quite well. The biggest lesson the past four years of school have taught me is that a proper education reaches past fractions and vocabulary. It demands critical thinking, and empathy, and for other opinions to be voiced and heard. It asks for equality and magnanimity and it gives opportunities that we could not even begin to imagine. That lesson started in your classroom, with its big windows and the potted plants and the scream count on the whiteboard. You are truly an inspiration, and I hope this grant can help you inspire even more students.


Bethany Ruzicka