A group of remarkable teachers . . .


    (Congratulations to teacherken on this honor! – promoted by lowkell)

    originally posted at Daily Kos on May 11

    Tonight I was one of 21 teachers honored at the Washington Post for our winning Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Awards, one from each of the 19 public school districts, one for private and parochial schools, and one from DC Charter Schools.  I was very much honored to be in the company of the 20 others, about whom I will offer more.   Among the guests were people with whom I had prior contact, or with whom I share people in common.  It was a remarkable evening.

    It begins with the Washington Post Company.  Donald Graham, chair of the board of the company, established these awards almost 3 decades ago, inspired by someone working for him who had previously been DC Superintendent, and in memory of his grandmother, for whom the awards are named. The level of commitment to this by the Post is commendable – besides a reception and dinner for each of the 21, up to 12 guests for each winner, and officials from the school districts, we teachers each received a crystal apple purchased from Tiffany and an award of $3,000. Graham was joined on the dais by his niece, Post publisher Katherine Weymouth, and Post company vice-chair Bo Jones.  

    Please join me as I tell a bit about the evening, starting with my fellow teachers.

    We had a brochure that had our pictures (which – along with the outstanding principals – will be featured in the main window of the Post Building for the next year) and our basic biographical information.  Don Graham read about 2-3 minutes of material about each of the teachers, going in alphabetical order.  That material was gleaned from the letters forming part of the package of nomination materials.  He tried to give a sense of each teacher.

    Derek Anderson of Calvert County, who was selected to speak on behalf of all of us, is an award-winning drama teacher, whose students dominate Maryland theater competitions, who because he was a lackadaisical student saved by his passion for drama has opened his room to similar students at his school.

    Erica Banks of DC will visit students in their homes to help them with their school work.

    We heard of a teacher who bought a pair of gloves for every kid in her school.  Another who left a job at the Post to teach students.  A physical education teacher who had a letter of support from every other physical education teacher in her system.  

    We heard of teachers who arranged for their students to do cooperative work-travel in overseas universities.

    I discovered I was far from alone in dressing up in costume to connect with the students.

    Many teachers wear multiple hats:  teaching perhaps four different preps, or serving as an assistant head of school and a 12th grade dean while teaching almost a full course load.  

    Our first honoree, alphabetically, was Rhonda Alley of Loudoun County.  She volunteered for a special program, 9 for 9.  9th graders who had failed the first 3 quarters came to her school for intensive help.  She had a remarkable success rate with them, and then volunteered to do it again.

    We had an elementary teacher who makes sure to spend five minutes of one on one time with each student each day.

    A middle school English teacher whose passion for Shakespeare so enthused her students that one parent wrote about driving four young boys around as they practiced their lines.

    Math teachers.  Science teachers.  A woman born in Peru who heads the world languages program at her high school in which she has established and expanded the language offerings beyond AP.

    I wish I could simply offer the texts Don Graham read about each person.  Only that would just give you a small taste of what these teachers were like.  I got to talk with many of my fellow honorees, I believe all except two.  They are remarkable people.

    One perhaps humorous thing.  We were seated alphabetically from right to left, facing the platform.  To our right in front of us was Bo Jones, and he had the envelopes with the checks to give us as we came off stage.  Those up to me had to walk directly past him, so all again shook his hand and received their check.  But beginning just to my left, almost every person started to leave the stage without collecting the checks.  Perhaps it symbolically demonstrates how for so many of us money is not near the top of our priorities?

    One of my guest, my first principal, was unable to get there, but she sent me a long congratulatory email, apologizing for her absence.

    And various parts of my life reconnected with me.  The principal from the school at which Howard County’s teacher taught started on the same team in the same middle school as I did in the 96-96 school year.  We had not seen one another for 8 years, since the last group of kids we shared graduated from high school.

    I talked with the principal from Blake High School in Montgomery County from which their winner came.  She had been principal at Hoover Middle School when I did a week there as part of my MAT program, and the current principal at Hoover, who had been her assistant at Blake, was my supervising teacher when I student taught in Montgomery County in the Spring of 1995.

    Talking with other teachers and their guests often revealed other connections among us:  Arlington’s teacher, the former Post worker, taught at a school which had tried to hire me many years ago, and the current principal was very interested in a guy named Bernstein who had been sponsor of the Muslim Students Association – we had an interesting conversation, although I made it clear I am staying at Eleanor Roosevelt for the foreseeable future.

    My superintendent had 3 other events today, but he came down to honor me, and took the time for what was a very pleasant conversation.  He wants to come out and see me teach, but I pointed out that right now we are in prep for state tests next week, next week is a testing a week, and then it is basically winding down the school year.  I suggested he come out early next year.

    I am still digesting the evening.  I am somewhat in awe of my fellow honorees.  They are a remarkable group, ranging from one in her 5th year of teaching to people with more than 30 years.  And yet some of them came up to me expressing a similar attitude towards me.

    I don’t know if I am that good a teacher, but I do know this –  I do feel obligated to live up to the high honor I have been given.  

    I have arranged to be in touch with several of the other teachers, because I want to share ideas, have us pick one another’s brains.

    If I am not that coherent, I am still processing the evening.  This community has been kind enough to tolerate my postings about education, school, students, and teaching.  It seemed appropriate to share.

    Thanks for putting up with me.