A rite of passage for most Cassville High School graduates is taking Donna Richard's Communications Arts IV class during their senior year.
The curriculum and workload are rigorous, and Richards has earned a reputation for using the class to prepare students for college coursework.
This spring, Richards' commitment to teaching was recognized when she was named Educator of the Year for the middle school and high school by the Cassville Community Teachers Association (CCTA).
"The Teacher of the Year award is a gift from my colleagues in which they show a recognition of my years teaching at Cassville High School," said Richards, who just completed her 18th year as a member of the CHS faculty.
Richards, a graduate of North Texas State University, entered the teaching profession 26 years ago upon the insistence of her mother.
"When I did not my student teaching, I fell in love with teaching and the students," said Richards.
It is her students who inspire Richards to continue teaching, and it is the student-teacher relationship that keeps Richards young.
"I really enjoy being with the students and watching their faces 'light up' when they understand a concept that I am teaching," Richards said. "One of the most challenging things is finding enough time to teach throughout the year."
Regardless of time constraints, Richards has proven to be a teacher who expects excellence and prepares her students for success after high school.
"Donna's students are some of the first to come back to her after they graduate and thank her for preparing them for college," said CHS Principal Brad Hanson.
Richards is able to provide students with a challenging classroom environment while also practicing her teaching philosophy of being "fair, firm and consistent."
"As a molder of young lives, a teacher must have a love for his or her teaching field and for the young people under his or her leadership," said Richards. "The classroom should not be a structured environment in which students are seen as 'little soldiers" marching to the master sergeant's commands. The classroom should be a place where laughter is welcomed and ideas are allowed to grow by involving students in the learning process."
Donna Lawson, CHS media specialist who has worked alongside Richards for a number of years, describes her colleague as a superb educator who expects her students to achieve great things.
"Donna is generous with her time, both helping students and sharing techniques and plans with fellow teachers," said Lawson. "The students both like and respect her. Her classroom is challenging and innovative, and she expects each student to achieve to their full potential.
"Her students are willing to set high standards for themselves, because Donna sets high standards and models that expectation in her own behavior," adds Lawson.
Producing life-long learners is another goal Richards always tries to achieve through her curriculum and lesson plans.
"Teachers have a responsibility to instill in students the tools with which to think, to act morally and to grow as adults," said Richards. "I will continue to encourage each student to do the best of his or her ability. I will also continue to urge all students to think for themselves and become useful members of society."