NEW PORT RICHEY — After learning she was a finalist for Pasco County Teacher of the Year, Gulf High economics teacher Jennifer Dixon never gave the award another thought.
She had too much else on her mind: Studying for her doctorate in education at Texas Tech University, preparing and leading her daily classes, and dealing with cancer treatments all occupied her time.
So when the gaggle of well wishers carrying balloons and flowers and treats showed up in her classroom Tuesday in the middle of second period, she at first thought the time had come for a slightly odd performance evaluation. When she learned the nature of the visit, the normally effusive and talkative educator was left nearly speechless.
“This is overwhelming. It’s such an honor,” a teary-eyed Dixon told superintendent Kurt Browning, who reminded the class of seniors how lucky they were to have her as a teacher.
Dixon, a Gulf High teacher since 2010, turned to the teens and thanked them for making the recognition possible.
“You are the reason I come to work every day,” she told the class, who responded with cheers, applause and shouts that they love her, too.
The students said Dixon “most definitely” deserves the award, not to mention any further honors that might come. As Pasco’s winner, Dixon is eligible to compete for Florida Teacher of the Year.
“She teaches to where we understand it and she makes it entertaining,” senior Steve Lee explained. “She makes sure every student is on a path to success and not falling off. Overall, she’s a great teacher.”
Senior Raven Lovejoy told Dixon that she appreciated the way she is treated in class.
“You say you work for us, and that you don’t come here for anyone else,” Lovejoy said. “It makes us want to try harder when we hear things like that.”
Growing up, Dixon said, high school was not her favorite time in life, and it shouldn’t be like that for others.
“I had teachers who really made a difference," she recalled, noting they helped her become the first college graduate in her family. “So I decided I wanted to help students and make high school be a place that is empowering.”
And that she has, her students said. She’s given them the tools they need to understand important principles such as self-reliance and entrepreneurship, along with smaller lessons such as how to give proper credit for others’ ideas.
Principal Jeff Morgenstein said Dixon embodied everything a teacher should be.
“She’s a world educator,” Morgenstein said, referring to her time spent helping teachers in China transform their classroom lessons. “When you look at who represents what it means not just to be teacher of the year, but what it means to represent our profession, Jen Dixon lives and breathes teaching, not only in the academic way but in the humanity way of learning.”
Gulf High also celebrated having the county’s School Related Personnel of the Year, Title I family involvement coordinator Andrea Morrow.
“Looking at both of these people and seeing what they do at our school is just the tip of the iceberg of all the excellent things that go on at Gulf High School,” Morgenstein said. “The two of them together represent what it means to be an educator in Pasco County schools.”