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Kurt Panton: Palmetto’s Teacher of the Year

Kurt Panton: Palmetto’s Teacher of the Year

February 10, 2016

Find what you love and do it. Mr. Kurt Panton, has used this motto to guide his own life and imparted it upon all of his students. While most teachers only have one course area that they teach, Mr. Panton has four: journalism 1, English IV Honors, yearbook and newspaper. Each student that walks into room 911B leaves with “Papa Panton’s” words of advice, beyond the typical course curriculum.  This very passion and personal connection to his work led Panton to be honored as Palmetto’s nominee for Teacher of the Year.

“There’s a yearbook adviser, and then there’s Panton,” senior and Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Palm Echo Yearbook Natalie Ongay said. “He perfectly intertwines the knowledge of creating an amazing yearbook and life advice that all of us will have, far beyond our days in yearbook.”

Panton’s passion for teaching roots from two important influences in his early career as a student: his seventh grade civics teacher, Mr. Thomas Sands, and his high school journalism teacher, Ms. Feldman. As Panton described, Mr. Sands operated under a tightly managed classroom; a skill Panton carried through to his own teaching career.

“[Mr. Sands] taught me about the importance of discipline,” Panton said. “It was probably oppressive to other people but I loved it.”

After 23 years, Mr. Sands continues to remember Mr. Panton as a respectful and academically sound student. He is humbled that Mr. Panton accredits his career and teaching style to him.

“It is not surprising that Kurt is being recognized for his dedication and passion to the field of education,” Sands said. “In my book, he is the Teacher of the Year.”

At Coral Gables High School, Ms. Feldman introduced Panton to his ultimate love, journalism. Working with fellow students who worked toward the same goals and passion inspired Panton to continue his line of work in journalism and ultimately take over Palmetto’s journalism program.

“I had never taken a class like newspaper before,” Panton said. “It was so awesome to connect with people who were actually passionate about the same thing.”

Panton began as a freshman English teacher at Palmetto but was eventually offered the journalism department as well. It was in this latter opportunity where he learned about the value of leading by example as a mentor to the students whom he spent many late afternoons working on the yearbook and newspaper with.

Yearbook and newspaper publicly advertise their closeness as in-school families, but Panton also facilitates the same closeness and shows the same dedication in his English and Journalism classes. Although his English IV course technically only covers literature, Panton’s interest in his students’ overall well-being and success overrides a rigid curriculum.

“Mr. Panton shows a genuine interest in not only teaching us, but making sure that those lessons extend far beyond the classroom, that’s what makes him our teacher of the year” senior and English IV student Kamryn Murdock said.

While his students undoubtedly learn from him, Panton accredits his success as a teacher to the life lessons that the wide range of students has taught him.

“When I started teaching I had no idea I would be introduced to so many different characters,” Panton said. “Everyone has their own little perspective so when I go outside of teaching I try to treat everyone the same way, remembering that everyone has their own experience.”

As Teacher of the Year, although an individual award, Panton brings the gratitude and honor back to the school who gave him his first start and the school system that bred him.  

“I see the award more as an opportunity to go out and compete with other teachers in the community to let everyone know how great Palmetto is,” Panton said. “If I win something at a higher level it’s more for Palmetto High School than it is for me.”

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