Each month in the state of Rhode Island, a teacher is surprised by TV cameras, a local news anchor, the Commissioner of Education to learn that they have won the Golden Apple Award because they’ve been nominated by a student or parent who thinks that they are pretty awesome.
So, a really cool coincidence happened for me this week. I had just submitted my first ever nomination for a Golden Apple award a couple weeks ago when I learned just a couple days ago that the very teacher I had nominated was surprised in his classroom by cameras this week. My first thought was, wow, that was a fast turn around! But common sense told me that there was no possible way that my nomination could have been the reason, which meant that someone else had also been so impressed and inspired by this teacher that they took the time to nominate him for the award.
Mr. Connolly teaches 7th grade Social Studies and it turns out that a student who was in his class last year sent in the nomination all the way back in February. Now, as an 8th grader, he got to see his teacher honored, because of him. The footage of the surprise and the reasons why the student nominated him will air December 14th at 6:00 on NBC 10.
I decided to share what I had written on my nomination form with Mr. Connolly and the principal and Superintendent. So why not share it here too?
The nomination form asked the following question: Why does this educator deserve the NBC 10/RIDE Golden Apple Award (500 words or less):
Here’s what I had to say…
Mr. Connolly is remarkable in his unbridled enthusiasm for teaching history. I have never seen my 7th grade son so engaged in a class, not only in terms of being interested in what he’s learning but also in how hard he is willing to work. He is totally invested and Mr. Connolly is the reason. Visiting the class on Back to School night left me wishing I could audit 7th grade Social Studies. Mr. Connolly shook every single parent’s hand and was unabashed in his discussion of academic standards and the many ways he provides for our children to show that they’ve met them. He keeps what he calls “office hours” every morning between 7:15 and 7:55 for students who need help (or for parents who would like to meet with him.) He also ensures parents that he doesn’t live far and if another time works better, he can always make it work. He keeps a quote on the wall of his classroom (which he recites from memory) and he explains how it may have little meaning to our kids now but, at the end of the year when they’ve learned about communism, socialism, and fascism from WWII to the present day, it will mean a lot more. He incorporates a variety of learning methods including textbook readings, primary source readings, mock trials, debates and three additional books the students will read during the year. They even learned to sew during their unit on the holocaust. He exudes a love for history and as I write this, my son and over 150 fellow 7th graders are spending 4 days in Washington DC on a trip that he organized – he sends us parents updates every night with the highlights of the day and a photo of something they saw/did that day. His course is quite literally coming alive for his students on the trip. In light of this amazing experience my son is having at school and in Washington DC, I have reflected a bit on some of my own social studies classes and realized that while some were good, some were astonishingly boring and none were like Mr. Connolly’s class. I’ve known lots of schools and teachers during my years as an educator and an education advocate and I am so totally impressed with and grateful for Mr. Connolly’s passion, high expectations, and communication with parents. School would be a better place if every student had a teacher as devoted and motivating as Mr. Connolly.
So as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I say thank you to Mr. Connolly and to all of the other educators out there who believe that our children should be pushed to work hard, to think critically about the world both past and present, and who believe that parents are invaluable partners in the education of their students.
Photo credit: The Valley Breeze