Corpus Christi – Kathy Westbrook, an art teacher named Secondary Teacher of the Year 2009 on Monday, had a crowd of about 60 laughing as she told the story about a hen that persevered and kept on digging for worms and laid eggs despite the hard conditions.

“If the ground is hard, she scratches harder…if she strikes a rock, she digs around it,” she read to the audience from a devotional journal. “The secret of success is to start from scratch and keep on scratching.”

Westbrook was named the Secondary Teacher of the Year at the Region 2 Education Service Center. 

During her acceptance speech, she had the audience chuckling to a story about a hen that worked hard and long hours without complaining or clucking. She even held up a poster that read “The secret of success” and inside the poster was a self-portrait of herself as a hen.

“Finding inspiration and motivation to teach for me comes from a few unexpected places,” she said. “I see the smiles of the kids in my classes when I tell them some outlandish story of my trip to school that morning or the catastrophe I made of some lesson from the day before and I am set for more.”

Along with Westbrook, Janet W. Daehne from Menger Elementary School in the Corpus Christi district was named Elementary Teacher of the Year 2009. The Texas Teacher of the Year is the highest honor that the State of Texas can bestow upon a teacher. Each year, the Texas Education Agency’s teacher program recognizes and awards teachers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in teaching.

The finalists will now be invited to Austin for interviews before a larger judging panel, which will determine the top elementary and secondary teacher.

One of the top winners will also be selected to go forward to be considered for National Teacher of the Year honors. The national program is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year, the Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year, and the other regional Teachers of the Year will be honored at a luncheon Nov. 22 at the Connally Banquet Hall at the University of Texas’ Etter-Harbin Alumni Center.

The Texas Education Agency has sponsored the Texas Teacher of the Year program since 1969.

During the luncheon, each of the regional winners will receive a $500 check and a trophy. The top two teachers will receive a $5,000 cash prize, a technology package valued at more than $15,000 and a trophy.

The Teacher of the Year program is supported by its sponsors, including AT&T, H-E-B, the SMARTer Kids Foundation, Dell and the state’s major education associations.

Westbrook said the honor was exciting.

“It’s really a big honor and I try not to let my head swell,” she said.

Her art students at Alice High School said she is deserving of this award.

“She really likes art and you can tell she has a passion for art,” said 17-year-old Jillian Gomez.

Sergio Leal, 17, agreed.

“She teaches you like how you want to draw,” Sergio said. “It makes me feel good that I’m being taught by one of the best teachers.”

Amber Zapata, 17, said Westbrook guides her students in the right direction.

“She’s an amazing teacher, she tries to understand our art and guides us when we need to be,” Amber said. “When I found out, I was honored that she is our art teacher.”