The notification bar on my phone is out of control — e-mails, texts, and a couple missed calls and voicemails. Facebook and Twitter are blowing up. I say this with complete humility, though, and not to brag. It hasn’t set in that I have been selected as a Finalist for National Teacher of the Year. That the things I’ve done in my classroom in Norman, Oklahoma are even worthy of attention is incredible!
So the interviews have begun and the interviewers are just as surprised as I am. Education in Oklahoma has not had a good review lately. It’s kind of amazing that a teacher from a state that consistently ranks near the bottom in education ratings is now among the four teachers who may be selected to represent educators in the United States. I stated that I want to encourage teachers to keep their heads up and to teach with joy and passion each day. Then I was asked, “But why should they? Given the budget cuts and climate, why should they keep their heads up?”
I say that teachers need to remember why they do this job. We aren’t turning a blind eye to all the problems, but we have to be intentional about not letting the negativity seep into our classrooms. Our kids deserve the best version of us. We have to put on our teacher face when that first student walks through our door. Educators need to know that they shouldn’t wait for validation of their work from anyone other than their students. It’s their opinion that matters most.
I’m not an idealist with unrealistic expectations for what we can and should do. I say that I teach math to freshmen students, some of whom have disabilities, at a school with just over half its population qualifying for free and reduced lunches. I know the struggle first hand. I write IEPs and monitor progress. I ensure testing accommodations happen. I’ve dealt with exhausted and frustrated parents and students. But I choose to be positive and the kids reap all the benefits.
I want my fellow Oklahoma educators, administrators, school support staff, parents, students and community members to know that I am thrilled to represent our state. When I first heard the news, I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude, humility and excitement. I was ecstatic! I am proud to represent the people in this state who are committed to making public education the best that it can be. This is for the ones who are doing what they can, with what they have. It’s not that we accept the hand we’ve been dealt. We just do the best we can – and we do it well.
It’s been 52 years since an Okie has been named National Teacher of the Year. We’ve only had two. I would love to make it three this year. With sincere appreciation, if you’re out there doing good things for our kids: thank you. And a very special shout out to my OKMath and OKScience Leadership family. Who would have thought that little hashtag encouraging teachers to be proud of their work would make it this far?