This article was originally posted on ClevelandMetroSchools.org.
Teams fanned out across the District on Thursday, surprising 10 teachers with the news that they will be honored as examples for their CMSD peers.
This is the second year for the Excellence in Teaching Award program, a partnership between the George Gund and Cleveland foundations, the school district and the Cleveland Teachers Union.
The partners will pay tribute to the winners with a gala Nov. 9. Along with the award, each of the teachers receives a $5,000 award.
“Wow,” was all Dean Bryson, a physical science teacher at New Tech Collinwood high school, could muster after a balloon-toting group led by District CEO Eric Gordon left his classroom. “I don’t know what to think.”
The awards go to teachers who demonstrate instructional expertise, creativity and innovation in their classrooms, make learning engaging, vibrant and relevant for students and set a standard of excellence for all teachers.
Peers, principals and academic staff nominated 239 teachers from 86 schools. Nominees had to apply and obtain endorsements from a principal and a colleague.
Reviewers representing K-12 and higher education, philanthropy, business, civic leaders and the community screened applications that had the names redacted.
Award winners commit to sharing their practices, so they can inspire other teachers.
Bryson, 29, has been teaching for five years, all of that time spent with the District. He said he employs “backward planning to make sure everything is aligned with the end goal” of seeing that students master standards, think critically and become independent learners. He customizes individual students’ lessons based on their data.
Marc Taube, a social studies teacher at New Tech Collinwood, marvels at the results of Bryson’s efforts. “I’ve seen students with challenges thrive, come out of their shells and do amazing work,” he said.
Senior Dashon Fears is with Bryson for “family time,” a sort of guidance period for New Tech students. He said what he has learned from Bryson goes beyond schoolwork.
“He has taught me that success in life is not measured by the amount of money you make,” said Dashon, who plans to attend college and study to be an architect. “It’s measured by the people you make happy.”
Gordon’s next stop was at Euclid Park School, where his team surprised fourth-grade math teacher Mary DeVille. Her students responded with hearty cheers when he asked if they agreed with descriptions of DeVille as someone who loves teaching and learning and serves as a role model.
DeVille, who has been with the District for 23 years, said she encourages students to drive the work, letting them explain and compare their calculations and approaches.
“Mary really has a heart first for her kids, and she has a love for her subject,” said Lisa Fountain, a reading teacher at Euclid Park. “She spends her school day working and then is at home working. She always has her kids in mind.”
As another team walked into Catherine Dulipsea’s classroom at Orchard School, her kindergartners looked up from their iPads, wide-eyed as they took in the big bunch of balloons their teacher was receiving.
“Is it her birthday?” one boy asked.
As Dulipsea’s eyes welled with tears, it was clear that the Excellence in Teaching Award was something even better than a birthday.
“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” she said. “I never did my job for recognition — I did it because I love kids. It’s an amazing honor that my peers view me this way.”
Louisa May Alcott Principal Eileen Stull described kindergarten teacher and award recipient Andrea Kitchen as one of the most reliable and loving teachers she has ever met.
“She can work with any child. You can give her a child that has an emotional, behavioral or physical disorder, and that child won’t act out because of her loving, yet structured, classroom,” Stull said.
Kitchen’s success is a result of hard work and long hours, Stull said, joking that Kitchen’s husband sometimes calls and asks where Kitchen is as she is working into the evening hours in her classroom.
Louis Agassiz fifth-grader Evander Gonzalez’s favorite class is math, taught by Alexis Pohlman. It was in the middle of his math class that Pohlman was surprised with her award, and Gonzalez was full of reasons why his teacher deserved it.
“Yesterday, I was absent for most of the day, but she helped me catch up on everything so that I was ready for my test,” he said. “And sometimes, she lets us come play on the computers when we feel bad or when the cafeteria is too loud. I like coming here.”
Another fifth-grader, Deanna Hayes, said Pohlman is a source of encouragement for her.
“She helps me feel like I can do the work even when I feel like I can’t do it because it’s too hard,” she said.