RISING SUN — Josie Perry, a social studies teacher at Rising Sun High School, was named one of seven finalists for the 2019-2020 Maryland Teacher of the Year.

The Cecil County native teaches at the same high school she graduated from, and said she is honored to represent Cecil County Public Schools in the statewide competition.

“I was born here and grew up here, went away to school and then came back here because I wanted to teach and contribute to my community,” she said.

Perry has logged 20 years as a CCPS educator. She taught for seven years as a U.S. history and government instructor at North East High School and the past 13 years teaching contemporary world studies and AP human geography at Rising Sun High School.

In April, Perry was named the 2019 Cecil County Public Schools Teacher of the Year after being selected from a pool of 16 CCPS educators who were nominated for the title by principals, parents and colleagues.

The seven finalists for Maryland Teacher of the Year were selected from a group of 24 local teachers of the year, representing each of Maryland’s 24 school systems. They will go on to compete for the statewide title.

The 2019-2020 Maryland Teacher of the Year will be announced during a gala reception and dinner at Martin’s West in Baltimore on Oct. 25. The winner will receive cash awards, technology equipment, national travel opportunities and a new car valued at more than $25,000, donated by the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association.

In addition to Perry, the six other finalists include Teresa Beilstein, of South Shore Elementary School in Anne Arundel County; Brandi Jason, of Liberty High School in Carroll County; Michael Franklin, of Catoctin High School in Frederick County; Paige Milanoski, of Havre de Grace High School in Harford County; Madeline Hanington, of Hallie Wells Middle School in Montgomery County; and Joshua Edwards, of Clear Spring High School in Washington County.

So far this new school year, Perry’s first lessons have covered basic reviews of geography, a shift from thinking historically to analyzing events spatially in terms of maps, and how to move past stereotypes of people, places and cultures.

As students look at the success she has achieved, Perry hopes they will see that stereotypes of Cecil County do not have to limit what they can do or where they can go in life.

“I’m hoping that it inspires students that they don’t have to be defined just based off of what other people think they should do, that they can really reach for whatever they want to reach for and achieve it,” she said.

While attending Salisbury University, Perry pursued an athletic training degree. But after realizing that career wasn’t the right fit for her, she explored teaching and quickly fell in love with the field.

Perry said she likes that her job as an educator allows her to do the two things she loves the most: Helping others and continuing to learn.

As a teacher, Perry said she not only teaches her students about problems in the world but also about how they can be part of the solutions.

“I help them become not only better educated about issues but also they get a better awareness of what’s going on in the world and how they fit into what’s going on in the world,” she said. “Ideally, also they start thinking and realizing that they have the power to be change-makers if they want.”

Staying up to date on current events is an important part of her job, Perry said, which allows her to be a lifelong learner who is continuously absorbing new information.

“In order to be the most effective educator I can be in this position, I have to keep learning because I’m teaching about the world and we all know how quick the world changes,” she said. “So I’m constantly learning because I want to keep up and keep informed about what’s going on so I can help my students better understand the world and what’s happening.”

As she and her students dive into yet another year of social studies material, Perry has a few pieces of advice.

“Work hard, come to school, and be the author of your own story, despite whatever labels other people may put on you. Don’t let others define who you are as a person because oftentimes those definitions may limit your potential,” she said.

When she started teaching two decades ago, Perry said she never imagined becoming her county’s teacher of the year or going on to compete for the statewide title.

“It was nowhere on my radar,” she said.

Perry merely wanted to be the best teacher she could be for her students as she helped them grow into future learners, leaders and contributors to society.

“I always wanted to be the kind of teacher that I would want to teach my own children,” she said, adding that’s what continues to push her to learn new material and to bring new topics into the classroom.

Perry also has a piece of advice for people who are new to the teaching profession: Stick with it.

“It is hard, but it is completely worth it,” she said. “You will have days where you are on it and everything’s working well and the kids are engaged and they’re paying attention. And then other days you will feel you have no clue what you’re doing.”

In her first year as a teacher at North East High School, Perry said she made her own first year tougher than it needed to be.

At the time, she thought she was expected to already know everything and shouldn’t ask questions or seek help — so she didn’t.

Because of that isolation, Perry said she even thought about giving up on her career until her mother stepped in.

“There was even a point early on where I considered quitting, but my mom wouldn’t let me,” she said. “I had to go work the next day.”

Throughout the years, Perry has found her support system and has learned to lean on her fellow educators — in good times and in bad.

“You will find your people,” she said. “You have to reach out and find the people who are going to lift you up and support you and just be there if you need a shoulder to cry on.”

On those difficult days, teachers must keep in mind that they are not alone in their struggle, Perry said.

“Know that all educators, regardless of whether we’ve been in the classroom one year or whether we’ve been in the classroom 20 years, all of us have those days where we feel we’re off and we’re not quite as on point as we were going to be,” she said. “But those days happen and you just have to stick with it to persevere through the challenges.”

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