Brashear physics teacher earns Milken award
Pittsburgh Brashear High School physics teacher Steve Scoville gets congratulations as he receives a Milken Educator Award in a surprise ceremony Tuesday at the school. The award comes with a $25,000 prize. He's one of 40 educators nationwide receiving the honor. At left is retired Langley High School teacher Ed Henke, who won the award in 1997.
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If there had been an applause meter in the Pittsburgh Brashear High School gym, the needle would have hit the top when the surprise announcement naming physics teacher Steve Scoville as the recipient of the $25,000 Milken Educator Award was made.
As is Milken tradition, Mr. Scoville was as surprised as anyone Tuesday. Sitting on the gym floor in front of stands of students and wearing a shirt and tie, Mr. Scoville broke into a big smile when his name was announced and the cameras turned toward him.
He joked that his lesson plan for the day might be "slightly changed."
In an interview, he said, "I really don't think I'm that extraordinary compared to other teachers in this school.
"I'm accepting this as a prepayment for making myself a better teacher."
What matters to him is that each student leaves his class knowing more than when the student entered.
His students appreciate it.
"He's my favorite teacher by far," said Maurissa Williams, a senior. "I can't wait in the day to get to his class. He makes learning fun. ... He deserves it a whole lot. He's an amazing teacher."
Senior Nautica Buchanan said Mr. Scoville gives explanations aimed at helping each student understand, including visual examples such as running through the classroom or cartoons. Because she plays basketball, he'll use basketball as an example when he answers her question.
"I heard about him as a freshman," she said, adding that she changed her schedule to make sure she got him.
Junior Skyler Nichols said, "The way he teaches, it makes a student want to learn. I'm drawn into learning."
"He's always been there for the students," senior Cameron Rossmiller said. "He'll stay after school to help."
"He's the best teacher I ever had," senior Joe Ostrowski said.
While Milken has presented more than 2,500 awards over more than two decades, Mr. Scoville is the only one in Pennsylvania this year.
The award was announced by Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, who said they are intended to provide an incentive, recognize excellence and inspire students.
No one applies for the honor. A state committee recommends candidates for consideration.
Mr. Scoville -- 42, of Highland Park, married and the father of two -- grew up in Durham, N.C., where his father was a professor at Duke University and his mother was an elementary school teacher.
"I think in the back of my head, this is what grown-ups do when they grow up. They teach," he said.
But he didn't start out in teaching. He went to Williams College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in studio art and Asian studies. He learned Japanese, art and cartooning.
He went on to the University of Wisconsin--Madison, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physics education.
He taught one year in Quaker Valley before joining the Brashear faculty about eight years ago.
Mr. Scoville didn't want to teach art, because he didn't want to judge art as right or wrong, A or B. But in physics, he said, "I feel confident in saying the answer is six meters per second squared."
He still draws and doodles and uses art in physics. His tests, for example, typically have little characters offering pointers or humor in some of the margins.
He said physics offers much that students can use "whether it's big ideas about how the world operates or problem-solving skills or the strict mathematical calculations."
First Published October 5, 2011 12:00 am