BUCKHANNON — “Mike Gitzen is Upshur County Teacher of the Year,” Principal Eddie Vincent proclaimed during a surprise visit to his physical education class on Wednesday morning. Gitzen’s class paused their wiffle ball game in the gym for the spontaneous announcement and erupted in applause when they heard he’d won.
Mr. Vincent explained that an online survey was sent out to Buckhannon-Upshur High School staff, requesting nominations for Teacher of the Year.
He said there were originally 14 nominations this year and another online vote narrowed the applicants down to three. Then a final vote selected Gitzen as Buckhannon-Upshur High School’s nominee.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison said each school submitted their own nominee for the honor of Upshur County Teacher of the Year to the Board of Education. Those individuals were required to write two essays about their philosophy of teaching and what involvement they’ve had to help the culture of their school. Several evaluators reviewed the candidates’ responses and ratings were tabulated to finally select an overall winner, and that was Gitzen.
Gitzen had this to say in his essay: “Through my teaching philosophy my goal for each of my students is for them to acquire the knowledge necessary to be able to live and maintain an overall healthy lifestyle as teenagers and as adults in the future.” His essay also provided several examples of his efforts to change the culture of his school by teaching students responsibility, persistence, service and communication.
Last year, Gitzen spearheaded a Breast Cancer Awareness Fundraiser which raised $16,000 for the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. He wrote, “The motivation behind this fundraiser was to provide support for those community members, past faculty members and a current faculty member who was battling breast cancer. For every thousand dollars raised through donations and merchandise sales, a faculty member would shave their head.”
Vincent stated, “He was also the driving force behind fundraising for the Tappan Squires Memorial.” Gitzen highly regarded Squires, not only as a co-worker, but as his mentor and friend. The principal went on to say, “He made a bad situation for us turn into something positive and meaningful. I’ve got a feeling the kids will remember this for a long time.”
Gitzen was also integral in the implementation of the ICU database program at B-UHS. Vincent explained that just like the medical acronym for Intensive Care Unit, it essentially means that a student’s grades are sick. The database tracks missing assignments, notifies parents of problems by text, and then updates them when the work is completed. Gitzen is reportedly very assertive and helps the program’s effectiveness by giving constant reminders and support for students to complete their work.
He got his start here as a substitute teacher while working on his Master’s degree at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Gitzen has since been a full-time teacher in Upshur County for the past six years. He worked at Buckhannon Academy teaching Special Education for two years and then transferred to B-UHS four years ago. In addition to being a physical education teacher, Assistant Baseball Coach in yet another integral role that Gitzen plays at B-UHS. He stated, “My goal is not to just teach my players the game of baseball, but more importantly, push them to be better students, teammates and community members now and in the future.”
Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus expressed admiration for Gitzen’s work and stated, “When you think about a Teacher of the Year, you think of someone who would inspire learning with students. But then to think of how they also inspire their colleagues and then the community as well, it’s great that we are recognizing a teacher who has done all of that.”
With a look of astonishment when he learned that he won the competition, Gitzen said, “It’s not been a very easy year with what has transpired, with the passing of my co-teacher and my very dear friend, Tappan Squires.” He went on to say, “I knew that she would want me to make sure I carried on good things, exactly how she would have, and every day I would go home and ask, ‘Would Tappan approve of how things went?’. And that’s really what I try to strive for every day is continuing to do things, just as well as she would have. And to have my fellow teachers nominate me and select me is just very humbling and I’m very honored. I don’t think any words could ever express my gratitude towards them and representing them and the school.”
When asked about his expectations for students, Gitzen added. “It’s real simple. It doesn’t matter the athletic ability, whether it’s high or it’s low, a popular student or not. My expectations are that you just give your very best every single day.”
He explained that he holds all students to the same standards because he thinks it’s important for the kids to push themselves, and even if they don’t think they’re capable of something, they are usually capable of achieving more than they thought. Gitzen said, “It’s okay to do something you’re not comfortable doing, as long as you have fun. You might surprise yourself and you might like it and find out a lot about yourself.”
Gitzen will go on to represent Upshur County at the state competition, where in addition to the distinguishing honor, he will also have the chance to win money and a new car.