Monday, December 21, 2015
The All But Not Quite Most
I have been a college teacher for 36 years. It has, for the most part, been a very rewarding career. Seeing the faces of students when they "get" something is the biggest "high" in life. Continuing interaction with students in and out of the classroom is very gratifying. Some of my students even became life-long friends. As rewarding as the experience has always been I have still hankered after some formal recognition. I occasionally wished that at least once I could receive a teaching award. Every college I've worked at has given teaching or faculty awards, and every few years I'd think it would be nice to receive one. About six months ago, I finally made peace with the idea that I was never going to get a plaque or a certificate and that the only teaching reward I really needed was the intrinsic positive value that comes from making a true connection with a student.
Then suddenly a month ago I got an e-mail telling me that my college president wanted to nominate me for a prestigious, state-wide teaching award, one that came with not only a plaque but a significant size check. The downside was that there was a lot of work to be done on the applications - two different essays to write and a detailed accounting of everything I'd done for the past 20 years to demonstrate my commitment to teaching and to life-long learning. I was thrilled just to be nominated. It didn't matter than I was going to be one of a dozen nominees. Just to know that my own college administration acknowledged my contributions was enough. It took me six days to pull together all the materials for the nomination, but once I did, I set the entire matter aside and did not think of it; being nominated was more than enough.
A couple of weeks later, out of the blue, I receive an e-mail from my college dean issuing me congratulations on winning the teaching award. Not only did he send these congratulations to me, but he copied them to every single person in our entire five campus college organization. His congratulations incorporated an entire e-mail conversation from the community college system office and the leadership from other colleges. As I read over the previous e-mails, it seemed to me that my dean was incorrect, that I had merely been chosen as the community college system's nominee to be forwarded to the state-wide selection committee, not an actual winner of the award.
I sent some queries back up the hierarchy, wondering if perhaps I was merely a nominee rather than a winner. What I got back restated that I was the "winner" of the award. I still didn't trust this fully, as the information I had received about the award said in several places that one requirement of a "winner" was to be physically present at the awards ceremony in September, which suggested that the final decision was not announced until that ceremony. But over the next ten days I was barraged with congratulatory messages from colleagues who had received the initial e-mail. I slowly began to think of myself as a "winner" rather than a nominee - a shift in expectations - and even began to think about ways that we could use the prize money.
I was still cautious enough not to accept an invitation to do an interview about the award. I explained to the reporter that the award was not official, and that I was uncomfortable doing publicity until I was officially notified. I copied my e-mail to the reporter to the chair of the selection committee in hopes that I might get some clarification of the time table.
The word I got back was that my caution was warranted. I was indeed a "nominee" for the award - I was my community college system's top nominee, but they were required to send three names to the state organization making the final selection. So I carefully began to dial back my expectations. By the time that the final decision was made, selecting the third ranked nominee because she taught in a "technical" field, I no longer expected to win. But I was still having to deal with dozens of congratulations from work colleagues as the misinformation of the original announcement spread after the semester started.
In my personal life catalog 2015 will go down as the year that I almost, maybe, not quite, did not win the teaching award that I had craved for my entire career.