Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education

My mother in law received a Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education this evening – a well deserved honor befitting her work as an educator over the past 16 years. Out of the 21,000 teachers in the state of Utah, 2 elementary school teacher, 2 junior high teachers and 2 high school teachers along with a principal, volunteer and special education teacher were honored so congratulations to those who were chosen. It’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve always respected Jon Huntsman (Sr) for being incredibly successful in business and even more so for his work in creating the Huntsman Cancer Institute. This evening he talked about teachers and leaders as moral examples for their students. He talked about lifelong friends, more than 50 years of marriage, 9 children and 56 grand children. His words weren’t polished or elegant but they were powerful because they are backed by the acts of a loving family man who is working to make the world a better place. While the selection committee for the awards is made up of a board the Huntsman family is intimately involved in the process. Jon Huntsman has given over $1.2 billion in philanthropy taking him off the Forbes 400 list stating that he wants to “die broke”. I’d like to think the teachers recognized tonight and in the past are building more individuals like him.

I know there are many teachers in the state and in the nation deserving of recognition for their efforts. It’s sad that the less exemplary examples get media attention. I guess the anger perpetrated by a bad teacher sells more ads than the daily perseverance of a hundred great ones. I don’t have any statistics on good vs bad. I’m not really sure how you quantify that but I would guess that most students would be happy to point out a teacher, coach, mentor or leader who has changed their life for the better. I like to believe that our schools are filled with extraordinary individuals who sacrificed a life of monetary pursuit to make something not represented by dollar bills.

The theme that resonated from each of the background stories from the educators tonight wasn’t their ability to do a better job teaching the common core. No one listed their efforts to help students pass exams or memorize more facts. Instead, there were specific mentions of actions taken beyond what is typically scripted out in a lesson plan. One teacher conducts mock trials and legislative style debates in her classroom. Another, unable to afford a textbook for the content she wished to teach, wrote software so that her students could learn online. I laughed a bit when the biography of a 40 year veteran included the skills to conduct a mock nuclear war and make it fun. You have to be an amazing teacher to make the annihilation of the human race a good time.

I know from observation that my mother in law’s sacrifice comes in a million small things not included in the job description. Her school doesn’t have much money so she brings what she needs from home. Her school started a Chinese immersion program this year (in spite of the fact that many of her students don’t speak English all that well). She took on the daunting task of team teaching with a brand new teacher from China and helped her get settled in rural Utah. All the while she works like crazy to ensure her students still receive the instruction they needed during the half of the day they arent’t speaking Chinese. She works with and in defense of the kids in her class rather than letting them get knocked by the wayside in a constantly moving river of standarization.

A great deal of demand is placed on our teachers. They are judged based on their student’s ability to pass a couple of exams. It takes courage to help the students who have little chance of doing well. Under the guidance of a good teacher they can improve 300% but because they start low they still show up as a failure on a core exam. It takes courage to help the students who can pass the tests from day one – logically why bother helping them excell when they can already pass? In either case the resources expended by the educator focusing on either of those groups won’t be recognized on test day. It takes courage and dedication to your students to ignore those facts and do what’s right for each of the 20 or 30 odd individuals who unknowningly trust you with their future each day.

Congratulations to all who were recognized and thanks to all those who sacrifice to prepare each new generation for the future!

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