It is not only the award that I receive: the process is also a reward. So I sit before the keyboard now, asking myself, What has it all meant for me? I have to tell you, the answer is surprising. Let there be no mistake: obviously it has been an honor when parents and students have deemed me worthy of nomination, but there is more to the process than meets the eye.
- To be honest, there is a modicum of pride when someone receives recognition for diligent effort. It is a badge of honor to be known as the first Golden Apple recipient from our school. It is a boost to the ego to be the Joplin Schools Teacher of the Year in the following year. You might expect that, yes, it makes a person happy to get a handshake from the superintendent of schools and a pat on the back by a principal. I only hope that pride is tempered and does not become boastful.
- Unexpected is the amount of self-reflection and soul-searching that accompanies all of the homework that follows the nomination. It is a challenge to communicate a teaching philosophy in a single page, and it is difficult to reduce a 31-year experience into a 500-word essay, but the limitations forced me to truly examine the important things. In doing so, the philosophy is streamlined. It causes one to realize that some things we thought were essential may not be so. Some things we thought were effective were merely cute. Some of the methods we thought were creative were more harmful than intended. I can tell you that submitting materials for teacher awards and teacher institutes have probably done as much to make me a better educator as any professional development I've received by any school district, company, or organization.
- I have come to realize that my writing improves with revision and editing. Being forced to write within the confines of an essay or a prompt challenges me to think inside the box differently. I've realized that the revision process is actually fun for me. That's not true for everybody, I know, but for me it has become a puzzle. I move the pieces, some quite large, into new positions, squeeze pieces in where they did not originally fit, and find the extra pieces that do not belong. I turn my puzzle into something unique that doesn't look like everybody else's.
- The result of this is humility. I never understood when someone received a public award and said that the experience is humbling. I always thought that the sense of pride and joy would outweigh humility in that moment...but such is untrue. While there is happiness, I have found myself to question my own worthiness for the prize. Am I truly the one who deserved the honor? Surely, there is someone out there who is better, stronger, faster, or smarter than I am. Surely, I am not the most creative, the most effective. Those thoughts can keep a person centered with feet firmly planted.
- Finally, there is the motivation to keep going. What is it about a plaque, a trophy, or a certificate that drives a person forward? What is it about a positive job review or a good grade that inspires a person to try even harder? The accolades we receive compel us to fulfill our responsibilities to the prize. We feel as if we must keep earning the award we have already received, like we must constantly prove we deserved it in the first place. A certain amount of this is healthy. I hope.