Golden Apple 🍎

In December of last year, I got an email that I had been nominated for a teaching award for some organization I had never heard of called Golden Apple. I had to fill out an application and get two letters of recommendation. I was surprised that someone had nominated me without telling me and then honestly, kind of annoyed that I had extra work to do during the week of Homecoming, which is my busiest time.

I went to my friend and colleague Amy to ask her to write a letter of recommendation and found out that she was the one who nominated me. Everything was due on December 15th. I went back to her and my principal on the due date and they hadn't submitted anything yet. 🤦🏻‍♀️

I didn't put a lot of stock into it, especially because we wouldn't find out anything until February and I didn't want to worry about it for two months.

Then in February I got an email saying I was a top 30 finalist. Within a few days, a superintendent from a school about 45 minutes away emailed me to congratulate me. He said a teacher from his school had won it previously and he supported everyone from Southern Illinois. I thought that was sweet.

I was invited to a ceremony on April 2nd in Chicago....a 6 hour drive for me. The organization contacted Amy to find out what local news we had and informed them on my behalf. One station sent a cameraman out to interview me. I felt so official! I didn't actually see the interview because I don't have cable and the interview I read only mentioned one thing I actually said, even though I was interviewed for an hour.  

In March, two people from Golden Apple came to observe me in the classroom and to interview my colleagues and students. I think I was more nervous for the colleagues and students than to be observed. I don't get nervous about that anymore. I chose my first hour Algebra II class and the topic was complex fractions. Not too exciting, but I did create a new sorting activity. It REALLY worked for one of my students and he was flying through the problems like crazy. It made me look pretty good but since I messed up the answer to the bell ringer problem, I guess it all balanced out. They stayed during my plan period to interview me as well. One of them was the winner from the previous year. I was shocked that he would be part of the process for me and I loved the idea that maybe I could do that too. He told me that they were very secretive, he had no idea he had won ahead of time and neither did his wife.

When the kids were finished with their interview, they practically ran to me to tell me all the things they said. Some of them had been nervous and wanted me to tell them what to say. Later the adults came to do the same thing. :)

My school paid for me to go the ceremony. I left on a Friday after school because of course I'm not going to miss a day of school. My sister went with me and we got there around 10:30 Friday night. The ceremony was on Saturday. We woke up to snow...on April 2nd. :)

For this exact reason I chose to wear pants but I also chose stilletto heels. 

Worth it. They had a fancy breakfast for us. Knowing myself, I ate regular breakfast at the hotel before we left. As bougie as I am, I eat like a 5 year old. They seated us with three other finalists and their guests and one Golden Apple Employee. They took a headshot when we came in and gave us a yellow corsage. There were a few speeches and then the finalists were announced and given a plaque. 

My favorite memory was another finalist who brought her own pom poms and cheered for herself as she walked across the stage. 

The ceremony was streamed and my mom was watching from home. I originally invited my mom but my dad just had knee surgery and we didn't feel like she should leave him alone.

After getting our plaques, they had a background set up so we could take our own pictures.

Then all the finalists were called to the stage for a group photo.

And then it was over. A few people came to tell me that they liked my outfit which always makes you feel good. The Golden Apple employee that was at our table had talked about mentoring so I made a beeline for her after the ceremony. I asked her if I could be a mentor, even if I didn't win. I swear she hesitated for half a beat and then laughingly said she would make me be a mentor. And in that moment I felt like she already knew that I had won. But since my elementary days of scoring high on standardized tests, I usually assume I am one of the best. :)

They gave away the centerpieces from our table and my table voted for me to take it because I was from farthest away. I took it back to my classroom and then about a week later realized that those flowers were real. lollll 

On our way out they were giving away black dress socks with yellow apples on them. I got enough for my whole family and then put mine in a drawer and never looked at them again.

We immediately went to McDonalds to get a sweet tea and then back to the hotel to take a nap. lol I am a child. Then we went to lunch and to go shopping. My mom was born in Elgin and we were about 20 minutes away from there. We found her old neighborhood and took some pictures. 

They told us we would find out the winners this spring...but no specific date. Sometime in April my principal sent an email out that we would have an assembly on May 9th at 1:00. I immediately knew what it was. :) Turns out several colleagues knew too...so we are not so good at keeping secrets.

My sister also texted me that morning to ask me what I was wearing....like that didn't totally give it away.

The day of the assembly, they pretended it was an inspirational assembly from our State Senator Dale Fowler and Representative Mike Bost. Then the Golden Apple people interrupted the ceremony and came in with my whole family. Obviously, I was not surprised so they didn't get any tears or shock from my reaction but I did give them a: 

And my first words were 'Jesus is real'!

I can't remember a lot of my speech now but was sooooo glad that I had known for a few weeks and had time to prepare. I felt shaky but I think I sounded okay. I used to be terrified to speak on a microphone but after years of spirit assemblies, I did get over it. (But I also now delegated that job to my friend Kourtnee.) Also, since I already knew what was happening, I was able to give Kourtnee my phone to take photos and videos of everything. If you watch the youtube video, which I can't bring myself to do, it looks like I'm chewing gum. I do not chew gum at all but I had this weird chewing on nothing habit that came from wearing masks for so long and moving my jaw to adjust it. I don't do it anymore but of course it had to be on the once in a lifetime video. 😬 Golden Apple posted the video on their facebook and a random stranger commented that I shouldn't be chewing gum. So just had to clarify that I wasn't...and thanked him for his support. (I am a petty child.)

What was surprising to me was that it all came together...without me. And here I was thinking I'm the only person who can make things happen. lol

Also hate that my hair is tucked behind my ears here but at least my face is cute. Dale Fowler gave me this fancy plaque to add to my collection.

My elementary friends came to congratulate me.

My niece Rory.

My nephew Brody and niece Baylee.

My sister Malia.

My sister Janae and brother in law Daniel.

My parents.

Golden Apple peoples...the lady in pink observed me and then weirdly, her son was on the same baseball team as my nephew and we saw each other over the summer.

My friend Amy who nominated me.

The whole fam.

Some SIU people who also brought me a really soft t-shirt and a goody bag of SIU swag.

Golden Apple...but all the signs are blue....maybe to match our school colors.

The silly part was that the kids who wanted to be on camera at the assembly are not even kids I am the closest to and I don't even know what some of them said. lol One kid even asked me to autograph his Golden Apple poster. 😂 The bell rang for 7th hour to start. My seniors were supposed to be starting their Trig EOC but the prinicpal had sent them to the library. I asked my friend Amy if she would let them into my room so they could start the exam. But they wouldn't start it without me in the room because they didn't want me to think they cheated. During 7th hour I was being interviewed on camera...and couldn't even get someone to watch my trig class for that. Then the bell rang again for the last 20 minute advisory type period of the day. I hurried back to my room because I had students coming in who needed to finish a test or needed my help. 

So that's how real teacher life is...you can't even leave your job long enough to win an award because there will be no one to cover you and then you need to go right back to it because someone always needs you.

Even our yearbook photographer came to get some shots. I highly regret wearing my hair straight. I curl it every day and also wish I hadn't cut it so short back in January. 

Alan Mather, president of Golden Apple.

There were like 5 gift baskets....all of things I will not eat lol. Chocolate covered apples and pretzels and dark chocolate.

I went home and did my favorite thing...take a nap. I went to a local gas station and got my favorite treat for dinner...pepper jack cheese balls and a Pepsi. I am a junk food child. Then I spent the rest of the night reading comments on facebook from friends and family who were seeing the news clips.

I received a second plaque back in April for the school. They hung it in the main office and I asked them to hang this tarp out front but only if it was hanging straight. :) Then I took my own selfie to put in the yearbook.

I won a $5,000 stipend and sabbatical to Northwestern University. Following the May 9th ceremony, I had emailed a few people to get more information. No one responded except the president. He told me the money and sabbatical would be sometime in March 2023. Over the summer we had a zoom call to hear more information about our prizes. 

Then on our zoom call, a different lady said they would start sending out paperwork in January 2023. They would like everyone to come together for one week to Northwestern University to start the sabbatical together sometime in April. They said we could continue working as much or as little as we wanted. It doesn't really work well for me because I am so far away and would only be able to take online courses. I don't really want to take any more math classes. I stressed myself out thinking about all the logistics. But I still don't have enough information to know what's going on. 

I was contacted by Golden Apple to apply to be a mentor and excitation was in my heart. I thought this might be the real reason God had allowed all of this to happen. I would love to work in that direction but it's not really an option for me in my school. I would be required to have a $400 training and Golden Apple wasn't sure if they could reimburse me or not. I had trouble finding the trainings and sent a few emails asking for help. I finally got an answer and she helped me find a training but then when I went to register, it was full. I couldn't find any other options by the deadline so I just gave up trying. I never heard back. Later I heard that I might be able to get the trainings for free through my teacher's union. Supposedly the trainings would be offered in November...but you guessed it, I never heard.

In August, they let us know about a second ceremony where we would actually win our award. They weren't able to have the ceremony for the previous two years due to Covid so it was 3 years worth of winners. But they picked the Tuesday night after Labor Day to have the ceremony. Even if I lived in Chicago, I would be annoyed. Why didn't they have it on Saturday of Labor Day weekend to ensure people had travel time and didn't have to take off from school? I decided not to go. I didn't want to have the school pay a second time for me to go do the same thing again and I'm a teacher, so I definitely don't want to pay for it myself. They mailed me my award and it sits on my desk at school. 

Now we are supposed to have a zoom call in February for more information on the sabbatical. I can't imagine that I will actually stop working to do this. This has been one of the hardest teaching years of my career but if I leave it, I think I would spend all my time worrying what was happening instead of actually enjoying. If I am an experienced professional who is struggling, I can't think it would be any easier for a sub. I enjoy doing my job and doing it well. I would like to do something like a photography class since I also do the yearbook. I decided not to stress about it anymore. If there are online courses that sound fun and interesting, I will take them. Otherwise, I won't do anything.

Overall, this process has been underwhelming. I still don't know how or when the prizes will work. My emails go unanswered. The mentoring piece that I was so excited about flopped. Friends and family still ask me about the sabbatical and I don't even know what to tell them. I've been getting postcards and emails from Golden Apple asking me for donations...but no one telling me how to get my prize.

Obviously I don't work for external validation or I wouldn't have chosen teaching. I get my validation from knowing I had good ideas and I executed them well and the students lives are better for having me as their teacher. I had all of that already.

The best part was friends and family and students complimenting me. The second best was that it helped with imposter syndrome. I know I am not an excellent mathematician but I always felt like I was an excellent teacher. The award showed me that other people also think I am an excellent teacher. It's not about the math, it's about the kids. Over this past year, I've felt a conscious effort from parents and students and colleagues to thank me and show appreciation. One of my colleagues said she enjoyed them gathering to talk about me for the interview because they didn't realize all the different things I was responsible for.

When we had our zoom call, I was the youngest winner. From the farthest away. Other teachers seemed to have more accomplishments like starting programs, being directors of things, etc and I'm just over here with a lot of extra jobs (cheer, student council, prom, yearbook).

That's when I realized that what made me win was my students. I truly believe it was their words that made the difference. My observer told me that the kids faces lit up when they were talking about me. She said "they really love you". And that is the difference for me. I really love them. I really love making their lives better. I really want the best for them. I want to give them the best high school experience. I want them to enjoy math class, even if they don't enjoy math. I want those good feelings to go with them wherever they go in life so that they will continue to have good experiences and give good experiences to others. I love being 'extra' and 'doing too much' and I hope they will feel safe to go be extra and do too much in their own lives.

P. S. At the beginning of 2022, I chose the word glow.

As my student Aunnie would say...I ATE.

Stay golden.

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