Northwestern’s Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award

I don’t know why I wasn’t going to post about this… but today I decided I would do a short write-up of it because I blog to archive my teaching, and this was a really wonderful thing that needs to be archived. This summer I was one of five teachers who received Northwestern’s Distinguished Secondary Teacher Award. I think partly the reason I didn’t post it is because I suffer from imposter syndrome, and felt like I wasn’t worthy… but I need to get over that thinking.


A former student who was a senior graduating from Northwestern nominated me by writing a reflection about her experience in our calculus class. I then was asked to submit some letters of recommendation and a teaching philosophy / personal statement, which I did. I actually wasn’t going to — another thing on my plate! — but I started thinking how lucky I was to have a former student take the time to write something up about me, and I figured I could put in a couple hours of work to honor that. A few months later, I received an email saying I was a semi-finalist, and had to do a 1 hour video conference interview with six people (administrators, professors, and students at Northwestern) — and that video was then shared with the whole selection committee. Scary!!! I did it, but was a rambling nervous fool. And then: I got a call telling me I was selected, and that I was going to be attending Northwestern’s graduation and be feted.

I was super excited that I got to invite my family (we turned it into a mini-family vacation to Chicago) and a teacher colleague/friend/mentor to join me. This was my favorite photo from the weekend: it was me and my family, my teacher friend, and my former student who nominated me and her family.

FullSizeRenderThe experience… it was once-in-a-lifetime. Memorable moments?

  • They put me and my parents up in two “executive suites” at the four seasons. The amount of fanciness was unbelievable, and the view of Lake Michigan from my room was stunning. They put little slippers by your bed each night! I doubt I’ll ever be at a place in my life where I’ll get to experience that kind of luxury again.
  • There was a luncheon on the first day where the award winners and students (and their families) all got to meet, and the students read aloud their nomination letter (which I had not been shown). I got teary when mine was read. And then I had to give a mini-3 minute speech which I was terrified to do but I think it went well.
  • I got to see my former student win an award!
  • There was a fancy fancy dinner for long-term retiring faculty and the award winners (where we were again feted), and I got to hear those receiving honorary doctorates give mini-speeches. My favorite was Dan Shechtman who is a Nobel prize winning chemist who talked about teaching young kids about science and not underestimating their abilities.
  • Graduation! They had the award winners sit at the front of the stage and we were called out during the ceremony. I was sitting next to the president of the university. This was my view:
    20150619_100733When they called out our names during the program, and there was a wave of applause and cheers, I got chills. In a good way.
  • We (my parents and me) went to my former student’s apartment for lunch with her family. We had falafel delivered and talked about … well, everything. Those two hours were my favorite, actually, of the entire weekend. Except for putting on those four season slippers!
  • I was invited to go to the “mini-graduation” for the School of Social Policy to see my former student get called on stage and graduate. (But then I was told I was sitting on stage, front and center.) It was so exciting when her name was called that I snuck out my phone to try to get a good photo of it happening!
    20150619_171202I secretly was relieved when my name wasn’t called and I wasn’t called out… too much fete-ing can be exhausting!… but right at the end of the ceremony they had awards they were handing out to professors and they then called me out and gave me a plaque with my name inscribed on it. So I suppose I couldn’t avoid betting fete-ed after all. :)

It was an unbelievable experience. For me, the most wonderful part of this adventure was knowing it was all kicked off by a former student — and that I got to share in an important turning point in her life.



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