I’m in the very middle, right in the back!

Returning from Ottawa after receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence has been an interesting experience.  I couldn’t tell the staff at my school why I was going to Ottawa before I left, so when I came back to school on Monday everyone looked at me just a little differently.  It was great to be back, but getting praised by some colleagues and the silent treatment from others made me feel a little awkward.  It was also strange seeing my picture in various newspapers and on the district website – this is not something I’m used to at all!  Various colleagues and people I had never spoken to before would congratulate me after seeing my picture in the newspaper.   Finally, opportunities to share my story or teaching practices started popping up like gophers in a field – most of which wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t received this award.  I’m flattered, of course, and I jump at the opportunity to share my story, but I’m still coming to terms with all the attention.

Most people are genuinely excited about my accomplishment.  But every now and then I get the slightly raised eyebrow which generally means that the said eyebrow-raiser is surprised that someone with such a youthful complexion has received such a prestigious award.  Even if the question of age isn’t verbalized – it’s pretty easy to tell when it’s there.

As a teacher who hasn’t even reached the big ‘three-o’ and is only seven years into my career, I still feel very young – heck, let’s face it, I am young!  I was reminded of this time after time in Ottawa and then again when I got back home.  Perhaps it’s because of this that I have spent a fair amount of time reflecting on my PMA experience.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Receiving this award has really confirmed what I’m doing in the classroom.  If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you’ll know that for six years – and the last two in particular – I’ve been steadily working on and changing the paradigm from which I teach.  It’s been a very time consuming, arduous, and sometimes frustrating process (lots of joy and fun in there as well though).  There have been many times over the last number of years when I’ve had to question, “Is what I’m doing and the time I’m putting into this really going to make any difference?”  When I’m overtired and overwhelmed and a student asks me “What’s a theme?” for the hundredth time, it’s hard not to think futile thoughts as I question my effectiveness as a teacher!  Getting invited to Ottawa was confirmation that, yes, I’m heading in a good direction.
  2. The changes I’ve made in my classroom certainly weren’t done so I could be recognized; teaching isn’t exactly a profession that comes with many public accolades.  This being said, most teachers I know consider it a part of their job to to be the best teacher they know how to be.  So it can get a little awkward when suddenly I’m being recognized for all the work I’m doing in the presence of other teachers who work tirelessly every day and are doing amazing things in their classroom but haven’t been recognized.  It’s weird.  And sometimes a little awkward.
  3. Yet at the same time, I hope that lots of other young teachers start getting nominated for this award for the life-changing work they’re doing.  I hope that we will see more and more teachers who are still fairly new in their positions start challenging their own paradigms and then work to create new ones.  I hope that they won’t let their age or level of experience dictate what they can or should do.  If my story in any way challenges or encourages another teacher to pursue authenticity and relevancy in their teaching, I will feel more fulfilled in knowing that others have benefited in some way from my experience.
  4. Finally, if you know of a teacher who is doing amazing work and is changing lives (or has changed yours) – nominate them!  This has been a life changing experience that I will never forget.  It is an incredibly honouring and special opportunity that I wish other deserving teachers could experience.  I already have a teacher in mind who I hope to nominate for next year!  To find out how to nominate someone, go to the website and look at the nomination guidelines.  It takes some time to put everything together, but it is well worth the effort!