National Teacher of the Year

1985 National Teacher of the Year

NameTherese Knecht Dozier
StateSouth Carolina

School Information

School Address
Irmo High SchoolColumbia, SC
Teaching AreaHistory

Washington, April 17, 1985 -- The daughter of a Vietnamese woman and a member of the French Foreign Legion has been selected as the 1985 National Teacher of the Year. The award winner, Therese Knecht Dozier, a 32-year-old Columbia, South Carolina high school teacher, will be honored at a White House ceremony tomorrow.

Chosen from among the nation's more than 2.5 million elementary and secondary school teachers, Mrs. Dozier is the 34th recipient of this annual award. The awards program, the most prestigious of its kind to recognize excellence in teaching, is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Encyclopaedia Britannica Companies and Good Housekeeping Magazine.

Mrs. Dozier, who has applied to the NASA Teacher in Space Project to be the first private citizen in space, has been teaching for 10 years. She has spent the last eight years at Columbia's Irmo High School where she teaches world history. This is a subject to which Mrs. Dozier brings a great sense of personal involvement because, as she says, her life has been directly influenced by historical events.

Mrs. Dozier's father, a colonel in Hitler's Waffen SS, fled Germany during the closing days of World War II and joined the French Foreign Legion. In Saigon, he met and married a Vietnamese woman, Mrs. Dozier's mother, who died 20 months later, shortly after giving birth to Mrs. Dozier's brother. Unable to care for his two children, the father sold then to a Chinese businessman. Ultimately the children, suffering from malnutrition, wound up in a French orphanage in Saigon where they were discovered and adopted by Lawrence Knecht, a U.S. Army advisor to the French and his wife, Anne. The brother and sister are believed to be the first Vietnamese children adopted by Americans and brought to this country.

"I have always been conscious of having been given a chance to make something of myself," Mrs. Dozier says. "Teaching is my way of repaying the debt."

Mrs. Dozier has earned the respect and admiration of students and parents alike for her ability to bring history to life. "We must actively involve students in their own learning," Mrs. Dozier says. "We teachers cannot be merely imparters of knowledge." To this end, she has devised several innovative ways of teaching history.

Known as a demanding teacher who has high expectations for her students, Mrs. Dozier says her primary goal as a teacher is to help her students recognize their potential and develop their abilities to their fullest extent.

"To do this, it is essential to set high standards of excellence for my students because I have discovered that students will live up to the expectations that are set for them. So I strive to challenge and stimulate my students while maintaining and unshakable faith in their ability to meet that challenge."

One of her classroom activities is an annual 'Medieval Fair,' where students, assuming the roles of royalty, barbarians, minstrels, court jesters and peasants, participate in cultural, academic, and athletic events of the Middle Ages. The days activities are concluded with a feast of authentic medieval food prepared by the students.

Another activity is a board game, Imperialism, which Mrs. Dozier developed to liven up a traditionally dull unit for students on European colonialism in Africa and Asia. Each student assumes the role of a European power and tries to amass the largest colonial empire. The game has meet with such success that ti is now an annual competition between two World History classes.

It was early that she decided to become a teacher. As a Charlotte High School senior in Punta Gorda, Florida, Mrs. Dozier wrote an essay on "Why I Want to Become A Teacher." It won a $2,000 state Jaycees Teaching Scholarship.

She attributes her interest in history largely to her multi-national heritage. "However, it was also the result of the influence of several dynamic high school history teachers and the emphasis my parents placed on the significance of historical events."

After graduating in 1970 as class valedictorian, Mrs. Dozier attended the University of Florida where, in 1974, she graduated as the university's 'Outstanding Four-Year Scholar' after maintaining a straight-A average; she later earned a masters degree in social studies from the university.

Following her college graduation, she married Mark Dozier of Memphis, Tennessee and taught social studies for two years at a Gainesville, Florida middle school. When her husbands job as a sales representative took them to Miami, she taught math at an inner city school there. In 1977, the Doziers moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where she began teaching at Irmo High School.

The other finalists in the 1985 awards program were Susan Ingraham Gendrich, a teacher of English as a Second Language at Bradley Model School, Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Meliane Wells Morgan, a teacher of math and computer literacy at Landrum Junior High School, Houston, Texas; and Susan Alexis Thomas, a physics, chemistry and senior science teacher at Delcastle Vocational Technical High School, Wilmington, Delaware.

Dozier's Thoughts on Teaching and Learning