Awards Season

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Current Affairs

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 image_gallery   It is awards season.  December through March seems to be a neverending parade of people of the year, bright stars and shining examples.  And, let’s face it, America is obsessed.  Winners sell magazines, jewelry, shoes, and movie popcorn.  We tune in to find out who made the playoffs, who is the emcee, who will perform at halftime, who has the most social capital, and who to watch in the coming years.

   The more cynical people dismiss all the hoopla as materialism, marketing, or at best a series of popularity contests. But others see a certain value, or at least voyeuristic pleasure, in reflecting on what these people represent about our tastes and values.  Others completely abandon themselves in the celebration. I find myself somewhere between cynic and interested observer, especially when it comes to teacher awards. In the past several weeks I have been humbled and cheered as so many of my colleagues have received prestigious and well-earned accolades for their work. In fact, I now blog with the Arizona State Teacher of the Year, Christine Marsh.  How amazing is that? Other blogging colleagues have won professional awards and national positions that simply blow me away.  Just read their bios.  I’m not kidding.

    I have two teacher-types on my shoulders guiding my thinking every time I hear about one of my teacher friends receiving an award. One small figure, dressed in a tasteful off-white pantsuit, is a passionate professional. On the other shoulder sits more of what they used to call a lounge lizard. She has her legs crossed and is bitterly smoking a cigarette. Yes, teacher lounge lizards may be a dying breed, but their voices still pipe up in my head sometimes. I hope that doesn’t make me a bad person.

    When I hear of a friend being recognized for her work, the lounge lizard immediately reminds me that I have not yet won any kind of teaching award.  What makes all these other people so special?  Just because I don’t own enough nice pantsuits? Who do I have to nuzzle up to who can get me an award?  Hm?  And of course, it is this little voice in the back corner of my mind that is one reason some schools and districts do not hand out teacher awards.  One district I taught in for ten years said they did not want to create a competitive environment, or imply that the people who had not won the award were not appreciated. They wanted to appreciate and support all teachers, not just one a month (or what have you).  I could appreciate the idea at the time. But looking back, the funny thing about that system was that a) we all know who would have gotten the awards if there had been some, and b) we all knew that seriously, some teachers were just not that committed or effective, and maybe it would be okay if they did not get a reward. So why not go ahead and go through the motions?

    Even though the petty, backbiting, envious lounge lizard is there on my shoulder, the passionate professional usually wins most of my inner battles.  The passionate professional reminds me, in her nurturing way, that even though I work hard and try to develop the correct dispositions, honestly, I’m not really the teacher-awardy-type, for the most part.  I mean, obviously if I got one I would tearfully accept it, but…  the realistic part of me knows I am just a bit too disorganized, a bit too emotional, a little not-enough savvy at institutional type workings, a little too random, slightly too inappropriate at moments, not the strongest at classroom management, and often not well-groomed.  In fact, my roots are looking pretty gray at the moment.  I haven’t taught the same subject, ever, for more than four years in a row, so I haven’t developed the depth of craft in a specific area that some teachers do.  But the passionate professional reminds me that I have many strengths that are much less awardy– exploration, constant re-assessment, an interest in my students and their learning, a wide variety of content and instructional skills, an attitude of lifelong learning and growth, a excitement about the possibilities of technology in the classroom, for example.  

    And the passionate professional, who usually wins, reminds me that the more often accomplished teachers are recognized for their skill, commitment and effectiveness, the better it is for our profession.  I personally know many of these people, and they truly are exemplars of a profession which is coming into its own (though hopefully funding and pay will follow soon).  We are in an age where we have defined what good teaching is, and many, many organizations are coming forward to unearth the jewels who personify the best qualities of a teacher.  And this can only be a good thing.  These folks each offer me a model of what it means to teach, and the inspiration to keep doing it.




Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

Comments 8

  1. Danielle Brown

    The imagery of the lounge lizard, made me smile. I am glad you choose not to let the lounge lizard take over. We really are in this together, no matter the awards won or goals attained. We are in the work of making education better for our students. Let’s celebrate and elevate!

    Thanks for your post!

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  2. Beth Maloney

    Amethyst, I think you’ve just helped me identify my spirit animal. Your post is so honest. I agree that the more we recognize and celebrate each other’s accomplishments, the better off our profession will be. Let’s continue to celebrate and inspire each other.

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  3. Christine Porter Marsh

    Well said. And I would add this…the chances are that the people who have won awards are thinking something along the lines of this: “Wow. This is quite an honor, but there are SO MANY other deserving teachers out there! There are also teachers who are even more deserving than I am.”

    I, too, am mixed about awards. However, I am humbled by the notion that someone cares enough about teachers to celebrate them. Teachers–all of them–should be celebrated.

    Nice post.

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  4. Sandy Merz

    I’m okay with awards, but having won a couple – while knowing there are so many others that are deserving, try not to let them go to my head, not always an easy task. But I see each award as two things – a call to hold myself accountable to the meaning of the award and a call to represent all the other teachers who are just as deserving as I am. As far as spirit animals I’ll go with the snake and the owl, which were the subject of one of my very first SFS posts – “I discovered something crazy” (at least check out the picture).

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      Amethyst Hinton Sainz

      I think that is one thing I have learned working alongside so many award winners– that there is a difference between the awards where someone’s name is engraved on a plaque in the hall, which honors service given, and the awards which so many of you have won which truly call on you to use what you have accomplished to push the profession and policy decisions forward. I read Angela’s post about feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility to keep up with all the current policies– I imagine there is a lot of pressure (and learning and growth) that comes with those awards, along with the great opportunities.

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