Transforming Education. Transforming Communities.
Every year, schools across the country select their Teacher of the Year. Maya and Ana, two 10th-grade students at CAST Teach High School in Northside ISD, decided to rewrite the process as part of their Texas Association of Future Educators (TAFE) project. This organization challenges students to create education projects and identify possible improvements. The National Teacher of the Year award started in 1952, “This means we have had a similar procedure for Teacher of the Year for 72 years,” shared Ana. The current process has benefits; the award recognizes strengths and appreciates and highlights all the positive outcomes created by the school teachers. However, Maya and Ana asked themselves, how can we celebrate all teachers?
CAST Teach, co-created in partnership with Northside ISD and the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) at The University of Texas at San Antonio, is not only a place for future educators but a place where young people can shape the school of the future.
Like all CAST Schools, the innovative student experience at CAST Teach relies on four pillars: Relationships, Equity, Student Voice & Agency, and Authentic Learning. Building healthy, meaningful relationships with educators and the community, where students collaborate and work alongside other students and co-create everything from projects to school curricula and schedules, helps students achieve their purpose. Embedding these pillars into the work with students relies on a high-quality and stable teacher workforce in our schools. Research from the Charles Butt Foundation found that attitudinal variables such as lacking a sense of meaning and impact, feeling less valued by the public, and feeling unfairly paid are top predictors for potential attrition. In addition, “a lack of belonging and of being valued by colleagues at one’s school also are strong predictors, as are professional concerns such as lack of autonomy in the classroom, leadership opportunities, and input into school and district decision-making.” (Charles Butt Foundation, 2022)
The first step in reinventing the Teacher of the Year award process was removing the idea that only one teacher should get an award. “When we focus only on one person, we fail to see the positive in others,” shared Maya. For this year’s Teacher of Year Award presentation at CAST Teach, they decided to make awards for each and every Teacher – identifying their strengths. With support from Principle Ericka Olivarez, Maya and Ana surveyed CAST Teach students to determine the awards.
Welcome to Lights, Camera, TEACH!
Maya, Ana, and multiple student volunteers welcomed students, staff, and families to the first annual Lights, Camera, Teach Ceremony. CAST Teach students Alicia and Ana warmly greeted visitors while Izzy guided guests to their seats. Backstage, Darian worked on lights and sound. Along a walkway to the main stage was a red carpet where Abby, Clarrissa, Jayanne, Samantha, Tatiana, and Jayjay created a paparazzi experience for teachers with bright lights plus pen and paper to request autographs of their favorite teacher.
On the stage were two beautiful bouquets of long-stem roses. Maya explained the symbolism behind the bouquets, “Imagine the bouquet is like our school, CAS Teach. The vase is our school, the people who help support our school, and the resources and opportunities we have. The vase is the foundation of our school. Next is the water. That would be the students. You can’ have a thriving bouquet without them—finally, the flowers. The flowers represent everyone who makes the school possible. To put it simply, it is the educators. Can a bouquet be bouquet with only one flower? No.”
One by one Ana announced the awards:
- Mr. David Banda: Leadership Award for excellent leadership skills
- Ms. Valerie Bolanos: Understanding Award for allowing students to be heard
- Ms. Kristin Chavez: Joyful Award for bringing the laughs and the giggles in the classroom
- Ms. Brandi Clay: Creativity Award for helping students shine
- Ms. Lori Garcia: Collaboration Award for working so well with others
- Ms. Karlie Garcia: Flexibility Award for helping students grow
- Ms. Lizette Garza: Engaging Award for creating a classroom of discovery
- Ms. Hallie Gelabert: Purposeful Award for teaching in a world-changing way
- Ms. Jordon Henry: Enthusiastic Award for creating a class full of joy
- Ms. Tanya Martinez: Problem-Solving award for creating a classroom full of solutions
- Mr. Ricardo Ortiz: Listener Award for creating a place of safety in the classroom
- Mr. Antonio Perez: Patience Award for allowing students to make mistakes
- Ms. Rubi Wynne: Most Explanatory Award for helping students understand
As a surprise, even the administration received awards:
- Gabriella Aguila, Programs Coordinator: Enthusiasm Award for molding our school into one of happiness
- Denecia Anderson, Counselor: Listener Award for allowing the students to be heard
- Barbara Bloomingdale, Instructional Facilitator: Purposefulness Award for doing what needs to be done
- Jonie Gutierrez, Secretary: Understanding Award for the joy she brings in the schools (hearts and mints)
- Abigail Morales, Su: Patient Award for working with all students with the utmost tolerance
- Principal Ericka Olivarez: Leadership Award for being an excellent example of what it means to be an educator
After all had received their awards, Principal Olivarez announced the official Teacher of the Year for CAST Teach High School, Ms. Lizette Garza, Science Teacher. To conclude the event, Ana thanked the audience, “Thank you for helping us change education for the better.”