Kevin Wagner believes every student can be successful in life and says the role of an educator is to help them achieve that success through support and encouragement.
It’s the reason he is a teacher. It’s also the reason he was recently chosen to receive one of 10 Teacher As Hero awards.
“My perspective as an educator is that every single young person has a fire or passion within them, and my job is to bring that to light,” said Wagner, who teaches 11th- and 12th-grade history and chairs the social studies department at Carlisle High School. “It may not be in history or social studies, but regardless of academic ability or physical limitations, every young person has the potential to do something great and to make a change in our society.”
The Teacher As Hero award is sponsored by the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance.
Nominated by his husband, Terry Karanen, Wagner was one of 80 award applicants.
According to information Wagner received from the museum, the award recognizes “exceptional educators who leverage their excellence in teaching to make a difference in the lives of their students.”
According to the museum website, a grand prize winner will be selected during Saturday’s awards ceremony who has met all or most of the following criteria: “fosters an appreciation for diversity in the classroom, teaches students how to resolve conflicts respectfully, gives students a deeper understanding of the relationship between rights and responsibilities, honors student voice in the classroom and in public spaces, has taken a risk in order to remove an obstacle to a student’s liberty, or incorporates the above concepts in their relationships with colleagues and community members.”
A graduate of Messiah College, Wagner was hired as an 11th-grade civics teacher at Carlisle in 1997. He has served as adviser of the High School Model United Nations, an after-school club, for the past 20 years, and was the founding academic adviser of the district’s Gay/Straight Alliance, the first chapter at a Pennsylvania school, in 2003.
He has been involved with the national High School Model United Nations for 28 years.
Karanen’s nomination letter states that the High School Model United Nations is “the crowning example of how he (Wagner) encourages diversity and conflict resolution.” It also says that many of Wagner’s students thank him for his guidance and credit him for their success in college, and that Wagner “inspire(s) the teachers he supervises and sets the standard for other department chairs.”
The letter also refers to Wagner’s actions to rescue a student who was being bullied, and to his community service as a Civil War speaker and work with the National History Day Foundation.
Wagner first visited the National Liberty Museum in January while on a Model United Nations field trip, and he was immediately impressed.
“The focus of the museum is to preserve freedom (and) to look at the story of liberty, and they do it through art, mostly. … They’ve done an incredible job of blending history with a very positive message,” he said.
Among the museum’s exhibits is a sculpture made out of jelly beans, which Wagner called an “interesting take on an abstract concept,” and a three-story glass sculpture titled “Flame of Liberty” by Dale Chihuly.
“Just as glass is fragile, so is liberty,” Wagner said. “He uses the fragility of glass to represent the fragility of liberty.”
Wagner said there is also a section of the museum that recognizes the achievements of ordinary people.
“They’re not big names,” he said. “They’re just ordinary citizens who you have probably never heard about, but their stories are just as important.”
Wagner said he will accept the award Saturday on behalf of all educators.
“I am honored (to be selected), but I think there are so many other educators who go unnoticed,” he said. “This is my calling. It’s my profession, and hopefully I’m doing what every educator is doing in his classroom. ... This honor is for all of us.
“In the 20 years I’ve been a teacher, every single one of us is a hero to a student in our own way.”
He added, “My work’s not finished yet. I think I have a good 20 more years to go.”