Mary Henken thought she was meeting another teacher at the gymnasium. She knew the moment she walked through the doors that she was wrong.
Henken, a fourth grade teacher at Raymondville, was greeted by cheering students, many waving handmade posters, who had a part in surprising the longtime educator as she was recently named Wal-Mart’s ‘Teacher of the Year.’
Henken covered her mouth in shock as she walked past the students to the middle of the gym floor, where Superintendent Nathan Holder made the special announcement.
“She is one of the best teachers I’ve ever been around. I feel very comfortable saying that,” Holder said. “She’s top of the line. She cares about each one of her students, and they know that.”
After sharing hugs with many of the students and her colleagues, Henken said she was shocked by the honor.
“I just feel like I’m one of the team and doing what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s the way I look at it,” she said. “You come in here and try to do your job for the kids. To me, the kids are always supposed to be more important. I always feel like it’s the kids that should be honored.”
Henken has been a staple of the school since the early 1980s, when she returned from a four-year hiatus spent raising her children following her first year. She has taught four different grade levels – kindergarten, first, fourth and sixth – during her time at Raymondville.
“I love to watch the kids learn and understand,” Henken said. “It’s such a great thing to see a child take on something they are trying to learn and when they finally get it, to see how excited they are. That’s a great thing.”
A relative of Holder, Terry Holder, hired Henken in 1977. She will join her husband in retirement after this school year following 29 years as a school teacher.
“I’ve always been grateful the community has accepted me,” Henken said. “They took a chance when they hired me.”
Watch video of the surprise ceremony at www.houstonherald.com/video