It was March 4 in the early evening and my cell phone rang. On the other end was the Communications office of my school system. And today I can talk about what was said.
Or you could, if you have access to the dead tree edition of Washington Post turn to the back of the Metro Section, age B6, below the fold (this you cannot see online).
From the Post website:
The Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Awards
Good teachers are critical to a strong school system, and The Post encourages excellence in teaching. Each year it honors exceptional men and women in the teaching profession by awarding $3,000 to an outstanding teacher selected in each of the 19 local public school systems, the District of Columbia Public Charter Schools and one award to a teacher from a private school in the metropolitan area.
The selections from the local school systems are made through a nominating process and the final decision is made by the local public school system.
The call was to tell me that out of almost 9,000 teachers, Prince George's County Public Schools had selected me as their 2010 Agnes Meyer Award Winner.
There are over 170 schools in our district. Our school, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, is nationally known. We have had the national winner of the Intel Science Fair, we have a Disney American Teacher Award winner in the building (she teaches Latin), we have award winners of all sorts. But it is rare that we win awards that must go through the County offices - they almost expect that we will win other awards, and choose to offer those under their control to honor those in other schools.
When the head of our PTSA asked me if he could nominate me for an award last won in our school in 1984, I agreed only after I checked with our head of teaching and our principal that they were willing to support me. They were delighted, but the head of teaching told me I would have to commit to being at Roosevelt next year if they were going to nominate me, as it was a requirement for the award. I reminded her that I had already made that commitment by agreeing to serve as chair of one of the key committees for our re-accreditation process for Middle States.
On March 3 my principal told me that the County had asked if they could send a photographer to take my picture. He said they had said it was a final step in the selection process. That seemed strange, so I checked with a source at the Post, former principal education writer Jay Mathews, who said the selection process was entirely up to the school system, but admitted it sounded strange. When the photographer showed up, I asked how many other schools he was going to, and he seem surprised, then mumbled something about a couple of others. He took a couple of head shots, and several shots of me with one of my AP Classes.
The following day, March 4, as I was about to leave school in the late afternoon I stopped by the office and the principal told me that the Communications office had called and asked for my phone number. I asked what that meant and he shrugged his shoulders. I was heading to a free class at George Washington Law School at 6, so starting around 5 PM I began checking my home voice mail. I wondered why they had needed to get my home phone number from the school, since it was part of my personnel records.
They didn't. Around 5:30 my cell phone rang, and I was informed I had been selected, and that I needed to submit the names of my 12 guests with their emails by 11 the next morning for the ceremony at the Post on May 11. I was told specifically that I could inform colleagues (which obviously I had to do to invite them, to know if they could come) but I was not to blog about it.
My students knew I had been nominated. And unfortunately one of my guests dropped a hint to a student we share (he coaches her) and I had to dissemble, saying that officially I had not won anything - which was true, because it is only with today's publication that it is official.
No teacher succeeds by himself. My guest list is intended to reflect that. There were some people I wanted to invite that I could not reach in time, or who could not come. Of course my wife will be there, as will my current principal and the head of teaching. The head of the PTSA will be there, as will a parent of two boys I previously taught (one of whom I also coached) who is a past PTSA officer. I have invited a guidance counselor with whom I have worked closely. A fellow social studies teacher who started in the building the same year in the room next door to me, and who gets many of my AP kids in his 11th grade AP World History classes. Our former principal, now a county-wide figure, is coming. So is my first principal, now retired, who saw something in me when i started back in 1995 as a long term sub in her building: inside of 3 days she was moving to hire me permanently, nominated me for a beginning teacher award, and made me head of the department after only a bit more than a year.
Two former students who wrote me wonderful recommendations are arranging their schedules. I went to the graduation presentation in the Honors program at Maryland - College Park for one, and have stayed in regular contact with the other, who is now interning as a social worker in a school about 2 miles away.
And then there is Joe, perhaps my most important school invitee. Joe is the other Marine in the building. He started as a private, retired as a major. This African-American gentleman works in security in our building. And he has been invaluable in helping me reach some of my more problematic students. Sometimes I will ask him to come to my room to talk to a student rather than have to make a formal discipline referral. Almost all of the kids respect him, and the respect he offers me sometimes serves as a wakeup, and then I can concentrate on helping the student academically and not use what time I have for the student on disciplinary matters.
I have mixed feelings. I know how many outstanding teachers there are in our building. I understand teaching is a collaborative process.
The award will give my words on policy a bit more leverage, both within the County in which I teach but also to some degree in my dealings with people on the Hill: after all, the Post is a local newspaper here, and many are likely to see the half-pager in which the paper lists all the winners with their pictures (that will run multiple times between now and the awards ceremony in May).
And Damn! It does feel good to be recognized for the work one does.
I have wanted to share the news. I finally shared with my wife's family at Easter Dinner yesterday, knowing that it would be in the paper today.
Others will begin to learn through other means. Jay Mathews was, coincidentally, doing a piece that will go up online later today, about Eleanor Roosevelt, largely in response to some correspondence he received from a parent one of whose children coincidentally I taught (and this parent came as a guest speaker last year). In his response Jay decided to mention my winning the award, and the Post told him it would be public by the time he posted. His column is widely read in educational circles, so some who know me will learn that way.
I am proud, I do feel honored, and I feel a responsibility to refocus myself to justify this honor I am receiving.
That's my news. Not a bad way with which to start the day, is it?
If you want to see the large size, click here
and again, Peace.