Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

How the Fishman Prize Honors Teachers

November 29, 2012

I sometimes find myself thinking about the incredible teachers out there working hard every day all over the country to give their students a brighter future.  Many of them are household names in their own schools and communities, but unknown elsewhere.  They are quiet celebrities. 

Great teachers are never done learning – they don’t stop growing just because they’re already good; instead, they are constantly evolving, reaching out, and finding new ways to get better. 

It can be exhausting.  People I meet for the first time aren’t sure whether to pat me on the back or question my sanity.  I don’t recall anyone having that reaction to me during my former life as an engineer.

But when things are clicking, it’s the most thrilling and rewarding work any professional can do.  It calls on every skill that I possess.  I spend my workday in constant conversation with quirky, ingenious teenagers who are prepared to amaze me if I only give them the space to do it.

I know a lot of teachers who feel the same way.  We want to learn from one another and share what we are learning.  But how?  How can we capture what our finest teachers are doing and make it available to the whole profession?

In essence, this is what the Fishman Prize is meant to do, and why I am honored that TNTP chose to name the award after me.  The Prize seeks to recognize the nation’s best teachers in high poverty public schools and to provide a platform for them to share their expertise broadly.

It’s an open application process – any current public school teacher working in a Title I school can apply.  You can be from a district of any size.  Excellence is everywhere.  And the process itself is designed to be a learning experience. 

Semi-finalists submit a classroom video that is assessed by experts, and finalists are invited for an in-person interview in New York City where they have the chance to interact with other outstanding educators.  The winners are each awarded $25,000, making it one of the largest monetary awards for current teachers in the country. 

The best part for me was completing a summer residency with TNTP.  I joined the first cohort of winners this past summer (up to five are selected each year), and it is a life-changing experience.  The things I learned from sitting down, talking, and writing with these incredible teachers gave me new ideas for how to approach my own practice.  I was inspired to become more active in learning about what happens in others’ classrooms and outside of Washington, DC. I wrote an essay about my teaching techniques which TNTP published alongside essays from other  winners and shared them with other educators nationwide.  Before this summer, I had never been asked my opinions or how I lead my students to success.  The Fishman Prize Summer Residency gave me time to reflect, and it gave me a voice.

I want this experience for other teachers out there.  I want the teacher who pushes their students to levels they never thought possible, who motivates their students to constantly grow and improve, and who values the progress their students make every day, to be told they are extraordinary and awarded for it.  To me, this is what the Fishman Prize does, and I hope that if you’re a great teacher you’ll consider applying; or if you know a great teacher that you’ll nominate them today.

 
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