Brooke Point High School English teacher Samantha Cahill considered many professions during college. She knew she wanted work with people in some capacity, but it wasn’t until a postgraduate internship in college admissions that her passion for teaching blossomed. Back then, the Teacher of the Year finalist spent most days interviewing graduating high school students.
“I loved talking with the seniors and hearing their dreams for the future,” Cahill says. “I thought, ‘I could really see myself doing this every day.’ It was then that I was 100 percent certain that I wanted to go to grad school for my master’s and teach high school seniors.” Five years later, Cahill says it’s a joy to help her students fall in love with reading and writing.
“At the high school level, English is most students’ least favorite subject, or they don’t enjoy reading because it was forced on them, so I try to make it a personal experience by encouraging them to choose books they connect with,” Cahill says.
Cahill’s passion for her work translates into going above and beyond her duties. After four teachers left her department last year, she stepped in to teach creative writing in addition to English and photojournalism. This meant she was teaching a full schedule of eight classes, sacrificing her lesson-planning period. On top of her teaching duties, Cahill leads both the yearbook staff and the student council at the Stafford school. Students and parents say she puts in countless hours to help students both academically and personally — which is particularly challenging as schools adjust to a “new normal” during the pandemic.
“Over the past two years, many ‘normals’ have been taken away from us all, and she fought hard to give us all a sense of normalcy,” says Crystal Randall, a teacher and the parent of one of Cahill’s students. “My favorite event that she pushed for was the return of pep rallies. Seeing the overwhelming joy on my senior’s face while he participated is a memory that I will treasure forever.”
Students highlight Cahill’s selflessness and willingness to help. “She helps plan all of our school events and helps create the yearbook, and she doesn’t take credit for it,” says Marcus Randall, one of her students. “I helped her write a story this year for yearbook, and she told me not to include her name in it. The story would have taken me way longer without her help.”
For Cahill, it’s all part of her main mission: building relationships with her students. “You have to be their support system,” says Cahill. “My focus has always been on getting to know my students individually, instead of [as] a group of people.”
This story originally appeared in our October 2022 issue’s Teacher of the Year cover story. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.