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Inspiring Minds

New program created to honor K-12 teachers

Nearly everyone remembers that teacher—the teacher whose enthusiasm and dedication lit a crucial spark or opened up a new direction. All too often, these special, memorable educators go unrecognized in a field that typically offers few material rewards. Under a new program developed by the College's Office of Student Life and the Department of Education, and jointly funded by the Offices of the President and Provost, Dartmouth students will be able to provide that recognition by nominating outstanding kindergarten through 12th grade teachers for an award to be presented at Dartmouth's commencement exercises.

Under the program, students will be given an opportunity to submit an essay nominating an influential teacher in the fall of their senior year. A student committee, with help from faculty and administrators, will review the nominations and select four honorees. The College will then host the four recipients at commencement, where they will be honored with an award and a special reception. Each teacher will receive $3,000, as well as a $2,500 award for his or her school.

The idea for the program grew out of a June 2005 New York Times op-ed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and commentator Thomas L. Friedman. Friedman wrote of his experience as the commencement speaker at Williams College in Massachusetts. There, he learned about the Olmsted Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching, an award that Williams has given to secondary school teachers since 1984.

Hany Farid, professor of computer science, was galvanized by the idea. He approached the administration with the proposal and it was met with enthusiasm. "This is a chance to think about the importance of teaching and to help raise the profile of the profession," says Farid. "Dartmouth prides itself on being a teaching college; this is a way for a well-known institution of higher learning to highlight the importance of teaching."

Provost Barry Scherr says, "Recognizing elementary and secondary school teachers is vital to a school like Dartmouth where so much of the emphasis has always been on teaching and education. The heroic, and often unappreciated, labors of primary and secondary school teachers have inspired many of our students. Through this program we want, even if in a small way, to express our gratitude for those efforts."

With the help of Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia, Instructors of Education Jay Davis and Janet Zullo, and several students, the idea is being developed into a program that can begin with the nominating process this fall. According to Davis, "The gap between the importance of the role that K-12 teachers play and recognition by our society is enormous. To have high profile institutions validating the work of its own undergraduates' teachers sends a critical message about the importance of teachers."

Benjamin Taylor '07, who was also inspired by the Friedman op-ed, joined Sateia, Davis, Zullo, and other interested students in developing the proposal. "When I was in high school, I had one teacher who made a huge difference," says Taylor. "His influence, and the direction that he pushed me in is probably one of the key reasons I'm at a school like Dartmouth. This teacher let me know that there's a lot more out there."

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08