Grandview Heights' Teacher of the Year's winning formula: love science, job
Like many educators, Jo Lee's career pathway was inspired by a special teacher she had known as a student at Van Buren High School.
Most students knew Connie Leatherman as "Mrs. Leatherman."
Lee simply knew her as "Mom."
"She was a very good teacher," Lee said of her mother.
Apparently it is like mother, like daughter.
Lee was named as Grandview Heights Schools' 2019-20 Teacher of the Year during the virtual staff convocation held Aug. 12.
"It was a huge surprise, mostly because we have a tremendous staff in Grandview," said Lee, 51, who has taught science at Grandview Heights High School since 2008.
"There are so many good teachers here; it has to be hard to choose one person to single out for the honor," she said. "We have so many caring teachers. They love their job, and they love being in Grandview."
So does Lee.
"I've made lifelong friends here," she said.
There is a spirit of collaboration among the district's teachers that makes Grandview special, Lee said.
"It's the only place I applied to when I first looked for a teaching job," she said.
It took a long time before Lee decided to pursue a career in education, despite her mother's inspiration and her own interest in the field.
"I was kind of hesitant because I felt in a way I would be in her shadow," Lee said. "I looked up to her. I kind of grew up in the teacher's lounge at Van Buren.
"What I learned from my mother was the hard work that is involved in being a teacher, but I also saw all the rewards," she said.
Before becoming a teacher, Lee owned an antiques shop and did financial work.
She earned a science degree in 1997 from Ohio State University before getting her master's in education in 2008 and a doctorate in 2016 from the University of Findlay.
"I always loved science and the ability to explore something new and figure out how it works and why it works," Lee said.
The best part of being a science teacher is watching as her students have the same experience, she said.
Lee teaches Honors Chemistry, AP Chemistry and AP Physics, as well as some independent-study courses at the high school.
"Kids want to be successful, and I don't want them to be intimidated by more difficult content," she said. "The rewarding part for me is seeing them challenged and then watching being successful with that challenge."
Often, Lee will see a student in classes for three years.
"My favorite thing is when they come back after they've moved on and let me know where life is taking them and about the successes they are having," she said.
GHHS principal Rob Brown announced Lee's selection as Teacher of the Year during the virtual convocation.
"She is representative of everything we stand for in Grandview Heights," he said. "She is hard working. She builds relationships, and she does everything that she does day in, day out because the kids deserve it."
Lee involves herself in several activities outside the classroom, from co-advising the school's FIRST Robotics team to advising the In the Know team; making costumes for school plays; and chaperoning proms, senior trips, homecoming and other activities, Brown said.
At the beginning of last school year, Brown said, he told Lee one of his goals for her was that she should actually try to reduce the number of extra activities.
"I said to Jo that every Friday, I want a list of everything she said no to that week," he said. "I have yet to see a list."
"That's really one of the great things about teaching," Lee said. "Seeing kids in their element, outside the classroom and involved in something they have a passion for."