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.