Arriving on Friday night at the Marque Marriot in downtown Houston, we were greeted by truly exceptional staff at the hotel. The hotel was beautiful and a treat to stay in. Being a long time Houston resident and now just down the road a bit in Katy, I was surprised by all that downtown has become and was so glad to be given the opportunity to explore the city I call home as a tourist.
Saturday it was time for the interview process to begin. Each finalist had the opportunity to be interviewed by a panel of educators. In my whole life, I have never experienced such a relaxed and pleasant interview process. It was a treat to “talk shop” with people who like me felt passionate about the role public education plays in the lives of children. I was blessed and encouraged by the interview. I spent the afternoon exploring downtown Houston with new eyes. Saturday evening HEB treated finalists and their guests to a fiesta complete with a full mariachi ensemble to serenade us as we arrived and a truly outstanding cover band that had everyone up and dancing before too long.
Sunday morning, we met with other finalists to go over the logistics of the awards ceremonies. It was at this time that I got to meet some of my fellow finalists as well as finalists for other categories. After the logistics were handled we stood around and had great conversation. Then I ended up sharing lunch with several of the finalists and their families which was a treat.
Sunday evening at the awards ceremony, my dear friends and colleagues joined me. It was fun to see everyone dressed up and looking their best. Local students from HSPVA sang the national anthem as a quartet and did an excellent job. Throughout dinner, we were treated to music presented by an excellent string ensemble, also from HSPVA whose repertoire included everything from Bartok to the Beatles. They were GREAT! Our keynote speaker was Salman Khan who founded the Khan Academy which provides tutoring videos via YouTube for free to people all over the world. His speech was inspiring.
Then it was time for the awards. All of the individual award finalists exited and lined up outside. Each finalist was given a beautiful crystal star as a memento and then the winner for each award was announced. Upon announcement, we were treated to a video of the teacher in their classroom with their students being interviewed by a representative from HEB. It was in these videos that we saw the hearts of the teachers who won and it was beautiful! Each teacher was given the opportunity to speak a word of gratitude and encouragement. The speeches were fantastic and I found myself cheering and “amen-ing” along with each one.
HEB paid for all of the finalists to stay at the Marque Marriot until Monday morning, but I was too excited to sleep, so I decided to go ahead and drive home. This time of the school year is always stressful and very hectic, but I am not exaggerating when I say that I literally floated through Monday and Tuesday at work just because of the goodness of the weekend. So often these days we focus on what is wrong with society and in education particularly rather than highlighting what is good. Thousands of teachers faithfully go to work every day and have what I would call “golden moments of victory” when their students finally succeed at something new. Suddenly, illuminated by that golden moment, the energy, passion, effort and tenacious hope that goes into supporting student success is renewed until the next small victory is achieved.
I absolutely LOVED the theme of the awards ceremony first because as a believer in Christ I believe that the Lord has called me to be a light in our very dark world. I also truly believe that when we as teachers share our “golden moments of victory” with our students, with our community and with each other we really can change the trajectory of public education in our communities. In fact, given the sour opinions and negative political rhetoric swirling around the effectiveness and efficacy of public education, I believe that it is only by sharing what IS working well and what IS good in our classrooms can we ever hope to protect the educational opportunities of our students.
During the Sunday morning meeting, we were reminded that IF we were selected as winners in our respective categories we should be prepared to speak and to say something “brilliant”. I wasn’t at all sure what I would have said, and was not a little relieved that I didn’t have to, but about one thing I was certain. If I had won, I was gonna sing, “This Little Light of Mine”. So my teacher friends, let me invite you to let your light shine! AND, don’t hide your light under a bushel! Share your story! Share your victories! Share the hopes and dreams you have for your students that keep you inspired and energized every day! After all, you light the way!
To read more about the AMAZING winners of the various awards granted annually by HEB, read HERE.
Consider who might be blessed as I was through the application process and nominate a teacher who has been a light of hope in your own life.