I Was a Finalist for TOTY this Year–I Did Not Win and That’s A-O-K


I am not going to lie. I wanted it. For a while I had convinced myself the Teacher of the Year moniker did not matter too much to me, but as the days counted down to someone being selected, I found myself anxious and hopeful. 2015 has been good to me and my family, so really a TOTY win would have been like icing on the cake. But I did not win. Mrs. Brooke Webb did, and that my friends is truly A-O-K. Inside today’s post I will certainly explain why I think I ended up really wanting TOTY, but more importantly I will explain why who won deserved it more than I did.

This year has been a blessing. In fact, tonight I get to take my wife to Kennesaw State University’s campus to celebrate my Clendenin award. The award itself is a total game changer for my family as I work towards completing my doctoral studies. So again, the year has been one filled with opportunities for me. When the TOTY nominations came around, I knew the likelihood I would get a nod would be relatively low considering my teaching role has changed so dramatically. (I have gone from teaching a full load of classes to only one due to my obligations as my school’s academy coach.) Needless to say, I was surprised at first when I was nominated. Twenty-three great teachers were given a nod, which I think goes to show the level of respect my colleagues have for one another. Then I found out I was a top three finalist–to say I was a little gobsmacked would be an understatement. To be a finalist meant a committee of my peers and the community felt I was deserving. How cool!

The week after becoming a finalist was filled with being interviewed and filmed as well as some fun banter between me and the other two finalist. I was excited, but I had convinced myself that I did not need to win–that being a finalist was already a big honor. But what I did not realize is how my very human desire to win crept up on me as the week leading up the announcement of winner came and went over a long holiday weekend. I have to admit–I really did want it. Some of the desire was certainly pride and a desire to be acknowledged, but there was more to winning than personal pride on the line for me. I had an epiphany on Labor Day–I wanted to win because of Mike.

Mike (or Michael as my mom prefers ; ) ) is my younger brother. I have written about him before here. I will not go into detail, but suffice to say my family lost Mike in a car accident nearly ten years ago in 2005. I was in the car at the time. Losing Mike put me and family in a tailspin. We were close considering our younger ages, and for a little while I did not know what I should do next. I was in my third year of college and had started my major courses in English education. I realized, thankfully, I should be in class, working towards my goal of becoming a teacher. I believe to this day Mike would have preferred my decision over taking a year to grieve and “figure things out.” I have always been glad I did. All this to say, the reason I wanted the TOTY this year more than I first realized is the title would almost be like saying to Mike, “Look man, we did it. The work, the tears, the time–it was all worth it. We saved some people.” I have told former students and certainly those closest to me how much Mike’s memory and legacy pushes me to do my job well. I have often said that while I could not save Mike the night of the accident, maybe I can save a few of my students in my classroom. Certainly, I use ‘save’ figuratively here but also literally. For a moment, I felt the TOTY title would really vindicate my work so far, but I realized since not winning that the title does not vindicate my work. I know my work matters for many, many reasons beyond winning a title.

So while I certainly wanted to win, I found myself at peace when I did not. Brooke winning this year makes perfect sense in almost every way. She is tireless in her efforts to teach all levels of students. As a fellow English teacher, I know how hard she works to bring writing and literature alive for students. She works far past what is expected of her and spends countless hours investing in students outside of the classroom as well. Brooke had also been a finalist in past years. Clearly, our staff has always thought highly of her contributions to our school and community. I know how highly I think of her work. Sure, I wanted it, but  Brooke deserved the award because I know all the work she does is truly selfless. If she has a prideful bone in her body, I would never know it. Brooke is a rare find in any workplace. Thankfully I work in an industry where I can witness and work beside such individuals. Congratulations again, Brooke. Very well deserved indeed!

While getting caught up in the belief that something like TOTY is all politics and popularity, I would emphasize the right teacher won this year. Whether or not I ever get another opportunity really does not matter anymore. I do worthy work that is recognized almost daily by those I serve–that really is enough. And while cliche, being a finalist really was an honor.

In completely different news, my comps are due in a week! A week! I will hopefully have time to reflect on this craziness next week.

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