The Arizona Educational Foundation (AEF) recently announced its 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence, and Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School’s Tara Dale has been chosen as one of the top five finalists for the prestigious award.

According to the press release, the annual Teacher of the Year banquet is the premier event of the AEF, a statewide organization promoting exceptional efforts being made in Arizona’s public schools.

This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the AEF, and this year’s award ceremony will be Nov. 14 during a luncheon at the Arizona Biltmore, 2400 E. Missouri Ave.

Being nominated for the prestigious award is no simple task; the five finalists were given multiple tasks to complete consisting of writing a 13-page essay that focuses on answering seven different prompts, conduct an hour-long interview and complete 40 speaking engagements across Arizona.

Dale was completely up for the task at hand, diving head first into completing everything that needed to be done.

She explained that the amount of work took up most of her time during the summer, and she felt as if she was working a second job.

“It took me around 80 to 90 hours to write the paper exactly how I wanted it to come out,” she said.

Dale has been teaching general science at Akimel for nearly seven years now, and has always had a passion for teaching dating back when she would teach Sunday school at her church.

Her teaching methods while in Sunday school went against the grain at times, focusing more towards learning through life experiences rather than having her students cracking open books and memorizing every word.

“I taught on Sundays right after Mass, and it was for middle-school kids being ready to confirm, so it was part of the pre-confirmation class they needed to take,” Dale said. “I didn’t do the traditional teaching out of the book that the church wanted me to, and sometimes it didn’t go over so well with the nuns running the program, but kids wanted to be in my room.”

She began to fall in love with teaching, believing that it was her life mission to become a teacher, and decided to receive her teaching degree at the University of Phoenix.

While completing her teaching degree, Dale was trying to make the decision on subjects she was going to teach, but knew she didn’t want anything to do with science.

Her early animosity towards science steamed from being a straight-A student throughout high school, until taking honors physics, where she received a C letter grade.

“It was the only class I didn’t do well in and I hated it,” Dale said. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know what I wanted to teach.”

She began to lean towards teaching history, but the subject matter didn’t stick to her interest. It wasn’t until she took an elective biology class at the University of Phoenix, where her professor made the class an enjoyable experience that Dale knew the once subject she loathed became something she fell in love with.

“He was a dynamic speaker and all the students couldn’t wait to go to the next class. He made me want to learn science, and I was hooked from then on,” Dale said. “That’s how I fell into science, with that one college professor… he didn’t teach like a normal college professor with standing up and lecturing, he engaged us.”

While teaching her students, Dale tries to engage them by using one key component: humor.

The staff and students at the school have shown tremendous support, Dale said, where she is constantly stopped by teachers in the parking lot, asking her when the award banquet will occur.

“A good education is not just a transfer of knowledge, an education is receiving an experience that they can take what they have learned in a classroom and can apply it to real life,” Dale said.

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