‘Bellaire is lucky to have her’

English teacher Elizabeth Chapman awarded Teacher of the Year


Irene Zheng

English teacher Elizabeth Chapman has been teaching for 17 years, 10 of which at Bellaire. In addition to teaching freshman and seniors, her roles also include study abroad coordinator, club coordinator and the chair of the English department.

The bell for first period hasn’t rung yet, which means there’s still enough time for a game of badminton before English class.

With a racket in hand, freshman Megan Wang hits the birdie to her classmates and English teacher Elizabeth Chapman. For Wang, morning badminton games are a bonding experience and just one of the ways Chapman connects with students.

Chapman can’t imagine a job where she could possibly get to have more fun and feel better about the difference everyone’s making. In fact, she would not want to spend her days any other way.

On the morning of Feb. 17, Chapman got text messages congratulating her and an email telling her she’d won 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year. After getting nominated, the faculty voted on the recipient of the award, making the honor more special for Chapman.

“Bellaire truly has the best teachers I have ever encountered,” Chapman said. “It means so much to me coming from people who are such outstanding educators themselves.”

Crowned Teacher of the Year, Chapman said she feels a new sense of responsibility toward newer teachers, just like other teachers who have been mentors for her.

“I was mentored by lots of outstanding Bellaire teachers, some of whom were previous Teacher of the Year winners,” Chapman said. “I feel like now it’s my turn to try to help other teachers who might be new to teaching or new to the building and just give as much as I have been given myself.”

According to one such mentor, AP World History teacher Wayne Houle, Chapman plays a large, positive role in shaping Bellaire’s culture of love and advocating for the students. In meetings with administration, Houle said she’ll ask hard questions of the administration to understand how any changes may affect students.

“She’s dynamic, she’s smart, she’s caring and she loves kids, and it shows,” Houle said. “She’s always a force for ensuring that our focus remains on the students here, which is what it’s supposed to be. Bellaire is lucky to have her.”

Seniors Owen Bell and Yeshua Whatley recreate the pose of supplication of Jupiter and Thetis during AP Literature in Ms. Chapman’s fifth period class. Chapman explains
how the pose relates to the book they are reading, Macbeth. (Blen Abebe)

Wang, who takes HADV English I, said Chapman winning the award came as no surprise to her.

“She 100% deserves it,” Wang said. “She is not like some other teachers where if you mess up or forget something, you are scared to tell your teacher because you feel like they are going to judge you. It’s a really safe place in her classroom.”

Senior Kalina Peneva, who takes IB English IV and took English I with Chapman in her freshman year, describes Chapman’s class as a place “where everyone’s views can be heard.”

“She really prioritizes our mental health,” Peneva said. “When I go to class, I’m not expecting to be stressed out of my mind. I’m expecting to have something to think about when I get out.”

One way Chapman helps students de-stress in her class is through occasional five-minute chats. For five minutes at the beginning of class, she gives her students the time to communicate their stress, recent events and anything they want.

The chats started around five years ago when the theme for teachers’ growth and journey was relationships and social and emotional learning. The faculty was challenged to find ways to focus on the human side of teaching and learning and not just the academic side.

“The chats became something that began the class in an easy and comforting way, reminding us that we’re all human,” Chapman said. “They also helped me get to know my students a little bit better.”

As a freshman, Wang said having Chapman as a teacher helped her realize high school isn’t “a big scary thing.”

“She just really lets me know that everyone here is human, and that they don’t operate like a robot and that we all have our own struggles and peaks,” Wang said. “Her class really allowed me to realize that high school is not terrible.”

Another activity Chapman does with her classes is hot takes, where students come up with something spicy based on the text they’re reading. Seniors in the middle of reading Macbeth right now described Lady Macbeth as “a gaslighter, gatekeeper, girlbosser.”

“It’s a very fun way of incorporating our modern lingo with what we’re learning, which sometimes may be a little bit old and stoic,” Peneva said.

With English being the only class she’s experiencing this full circle moment in, Peneva said coming full circle with Chapman is a “special feeling.”

Chapman analyzes the painting “Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in class. She teaches HADV English I to freshmen AP/IB English IV to seniors. (Irene Zheng)

From the transition of middle school writing to high school writing in freshman year to broadening her field of literature in her senior year, Peneva said she appreciates the support and help Chapman has provided as a teacher.

“She’s really helped me focus more on actually learning and connecting with these really impactful and meaningful texts instead of on tests,” Peneva said. “She has this understanding that anything she’s teaching us, she wants it to be practical. Her class is one I’m really going to take a lot out of and apply in life.”

For Peneva, seeing the differences in how Chapman teaches makes her realize how much time has passed and how much more grown-up her peers have become.

“We’re getting to that point where we need flexibility,” Peneva said. “We’re at a point in the struggle between adulthood and still being in high school, where we still have to ask to go to the restroom when someone else can literally vote. She’s been really supportive and understanding of this weird position we are in as seniors that we weren’t in as freshmen.”

Over the years, Chapman realized she loved that exact combination: teaching freshmen and senior classes. She’d get students when they were beginning their high school journey, when they’re uncertain and nervous, and see them become more confident and capable at the end.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Chapman said. “I get to see how students have changed but also how they’ve stayed the same.”

Since joining the Bellaire community 10 years ago, Chapman took on the role of Study Abroad Coordinator. A high school study abroad trip to Japan changed her life and inspired Chapman to share the same opportunity with students. Over the years, Chapman has helped students win over $200,000 in scholarships to study abroad.

After the previous teacher in charge of clubs retired during COVID, Chapman also took over as the Clubs Coordinator. She organizes monthly club leaders’ meetings, club jamborees and creates lists of club meetings every six weeks to help students and clubs connect with each other. Though Bellaire has 139 clubs, Chapman said she looks forward to seeing even more clubs next year and for every student to get involved in a club.

As president of Ethics Bowl, Peneva undoubtedly noticed how Chapman stepped up and took charge of clubs this year, helping to keep clubs afloat. Peneva appreciates the flexibility Chapman offers to club leaders and all the information she’s compiled to help clubs increase membership and increase community involvement.

With multiple roles and responsibilities, Chapman’s days are always full, helping students from her classes, club leaders and those interested in studying abroad. Her plate can pile up, but Chapman said she’d be bored if she didn’t have so much going on.

“I get up every day and I’m excited to come to work and see such cool young people,” Chapman said. “I feel optimistic about the future of the world, knowing that y’all are going to take it on.”

To Wang, having Chapman’s class first thing in the morning is a good way to start her day. The passion and enthusiasm Chapman brings every day is palpable and infectious.

“When she comes to school, it’s like she actually wants to be here,” Wang said. “Every single day I wake up, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have Ms. Chapman first period, that is great.’”

Though Teacher of the Year is a celebration of one individual, Chapman said she’s thankful for the Bellaire community and teachers like Spanish teacher and Social and Emotional Liasion Micaela Segal de la Garza, who is a friend and inspiration, computer technology teacher Tania Andrews, who demonstrates positive leadership and AP Calculus teacher Edward Mazzoni, for being great teachers.

“I never would have become the person that I am or the teacher that I am if it weren’t for the network of students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members, and I’m grateful for that experience,” Chapman said.