One of the best things we at the foundation get to do is participate in the selection of the Putnam City Teacher of the Year. Our board members interview the candidates and always comment on how uplifting the experience is. These teachers have already gone through the process of being named teacher of the year for their individual school sites and then submitted written materials which a separate committee uses to narrow down the group to five Excellent Educators. Though they might not know it, these teachers will all get a stipend from the foundation, as well as other gifts at our celebration in just a few weeks.
We ask the same questions of each candidate, beginning with “why did you choose to be a teacher?” I was so touched by the answers we got to this one because it reveals the heart of a person. Many of these people come from teaching families. Some of them always knew they wanted to be a teacher. Consistently though, they could point to a few teachers along the way who made a difference in their lives, and set an example. One person who was mentioned was former first lady of Oklahoma Kim Henry. She saw a hunger for learning in a young person, and took the extra time to nurture that desire. Another inspirational teacher was our own Penny Poe who made sure a child didn’t go without the necessities.
Hearing their stories, and seeing how these people were so passionate about pushing their desire to help children made me so excited for our kids and for Putnam City as a whole. These people are in frequent contact with parents, both to share good news and bad, but mostly to let parents know that they are on the same team trying to do what is best for the child. They are taking advantage of technology in a variety of ways to stay engaged with their students. They are leading after school activities from sports to STEM Club.
The most frustrating part of these conversations was the almost unanimous answer to “what is the greatest challenge facing educators in Oklahoma?” You might think in light of my recent encounter with the public (The Year of the Teacher) that the Excellent Educators would have mentioned the lack of pay. You would be wrong. The biggest concern these people have is the fact that they don’t feel valued by the public. This of course breaks my heart because I know how hard these people are working on behalf of their students.
Despite that sobering turn, these interviews were so gratifying. I am proud to work on behalf of teachers like our Excellent Educators in Putnam City because they are making a difference each and every day. In just a few short years, one of their students could be in a future interview saying something positive about how a particular teacher encouraged them to help others, and they chose to do that as a teacher. And so the circle continues.