As I sit here to write this today, I realize how much I do not want to put any of this on paper. But I also know how important and powerful penning these words to paper will prove. I love control in all of the forms it can manifest itself. But I also love to pretend I do not need to control things. This creates a vicious cycle. I say all of this to prepare myself for how awkward the rest of this will feel to write.
Last semester my school chose me to represent them as their teacher of the year. It is beyond humbling for the colleagues you work day in and day out with to single you out with such an honor. I do not carry this banner without knowing any one of the teachers I work with each and every day could stand in my position. When chosen as site teacher of the year, you receive the incredible honor of teacher of the year. Our district recognizes you at a banquet. Your name goes on the marquee. Students clap and cheer at an assembly (my favorite part).
I prefer life behind the scenes. Small group settings, creating and improving systems and sitting in the back of meetings are all habitual norms in my work life. I speak up, but only after much observation and thought. I do not love or seek the limelight by nature.
Serving as my school’s teacher of the year meant I would turn in a portfolio for district teacher of the year. After turning in my portfolio, I did not think of it. Then, in the fog of the flu, I got an email to schedule an interview as a semi-finalist for the district. Top thirteen. Shocked and with no idea what to expect, I went to an interview the day after returning to work. When people asked how it went, pausing to cough excessively was the only thing I could remember.
After that, I again gave very little thought to district teacher of the year. Then, at dismissal one day, a camera showed up with my district’s superintendent to inform me I made the top five. What? My students and our staff all stood and celebrated as we loaded children into cars.
Top five? The next day, when I told my class we made the top five, one of my very competitive students had the best reaction. In our morning meeting he raised his hand and asked, “where do we rank? Are we like, first, or fourth? Are we a dynasty like the Spurs and we will win? Or are we like The Warriors and will probably win? Or are we like the Thunder? And (long dramatic sigh) everyone wants us to win but we won’t?”
I wanted to say I had the same questions, but reminded him and myself the top five in itself held incredible prestige, because it does. In a district with more than 2,000 teachers, top five is something I never expected. I work hard and know I am a good teacher, but I do what I know every teacher does. We show up because we love kids.
As this process continued, I had another interview and a cameraman come to film my class which made me . Everything seemed to go “wrong” to me. The cameraman came a day early. I rambled through an interview I was late to due to a miscommunication.
But in this process God reminded me none of this is about me. I have the God given talent to teach. I am good at teaching. But I am nothing without God.
God so beautifully humbled me throughout this process by reminding me I am nothing without Him. Being recognized makes me uncomfortable. It singles me out and I do not know what to do with my hands.
This past Tuesday I put on my new dress and went with my parents to honor all the site teachers and support employees of the year. They also named the next teacher of the year.
I stood up there with four other women who have shown themselves to be amazing educators. A gamut of thoughts swirled through my mind. Could I control my face if I lost? Could I control my face if I won?
Then, they said my name. At first I did not believe it. My initial reaction was there must have been an Oscars-like mistake. But no, I will represent my district as teacher of the year. Still trying to process what that looks like for back-of-the-meeting, observant me, but I could not be more thrilled.
The following morning, teachers decorated my room, students threw balloons and hooted and hollered. We ate donuts, which I never let them do. We enjoyed cookies and our classroom was filled with beautiful, thoughtful flowers. My students walked a little taller through the halls. They felt empowered. We all began to own this new title.
Though I still awkwardly say thank you whenever someone congratulates me, seeing how my students have become empowered makes me want to own this role for them. Seeing how the morale among teachers at my school rocketed through the roof this week made me want to step up and represent them with pride.
I do not know what to do with this new found role, but I trust that will come with time. What I do know – I get to tell people about the amazing students and families I work with every day. I get to shine a light in a school where teachers sometimes feel forgotten despite them working tirelessly for each and every student. I may be uncomfortable and need some grace as I adjust to the front of the room, but I will set that aside as I humbly accept this honor.