Not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but one of my absolute favorite things about Williams graduation is the awarding of the George Olmsted Jr., Class of 1924, Prizes for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching (to use their full name).  I loved nominating one of my high school teachers, and I embrace fully the idea of Williams recognizing those who helped get the fabulous students to Williams in the first place.  Tom Friedman wrote about them in his column back in 2005 after speaking at graduation that year, providing a nice bit of notoriety for this great program.  A great quote from Morty in that article:

“When you are at a place like Williams and you are able to benefit from these wonderful kids, sometimes you take it for granted. You think we produce these kids. But as faculty members, we should always be reminded that we stand on the shoulders of great high school teachers, we get great material to work with: well educated, well trained, with a thirst for learning.”

I noticed in our feed from Williams (on the left side there for those who may not have noticed) that the prizes were announced yesterday (click here for the full press release).  I don’t expect that everyone will read below the fold, so I wanted to put their names here on the front page…after the jump I’ve put in a few highlights from the full release.  For those who don’t know, the winning four teachers get flown in with their families for graduation and are recognized as part of the overall graduation hoopla.  They receive a cash prize and their respective school receives a donation as well.  Please do follow the links above for more info on the program.

  • Bradley E. Conant, Dirigo High School in Dixfield, Maine
  • Karen S. Franke, Kennett High School in North Conway, N.H.
  • Jeffrey C. Markham, New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill.
  • Tracey M. Wilson, Conard High School in West Hartford, Conn.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks again to all of those high school teachers who inspired us, guided us, and also pushed us when that was needed!

Anyone have a particular high school teacher or coach that influenced you in a way you still remember?  Please share stories in the comments….

Brad Conant

When bewilderment following the 9/11 tragedy collided with the opening of Dirigo High School, Bradley Conant brought clarity to his freshmen seminar students by skipping ahead in the lesson plan to offer a sensitive and sympathetic account of Islam, its people, and history. “Mr. Conant’s class played a huge role in shaping our understanding of a world that had changed forever,” said Williams senior Amy McLeod.  “It gave me a great respect for him that has only continued to grow.”

This sincere generosity is central to Conant’s philosophy. “I realize that additional academic achievement is very helpful to my professional growth, but in the end, the simple things like time, effort, and individual attention are what make me the teacher that I am,” he said.

Karen Franke

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Franke has a great compliment in Williams senior Liz Kantack. “It is because of Mrs. Franke that I want to pursue a career in education in the future,” Kantack said. “I hope that someday I can have as much of an impact on my students as she has had on hers.”

Franke, who is science department chair, is invigorated when students or new teachers make connections and gain skills. “My passions,” she said, “are helping students discover the thrill of working in the world of science through experiential learning and helping teachers improve their skills in teaching science.”

Jeffrey Markham

Quoting Albert Einstein, “Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty,” Williams senior Harris Paseltiner said the words found expression in an AP Great Books class taught by Jeffrey C. Markham. “He taught me what it felt like to learn without being told,” Paseltiner said. “He inspired in me, and in all those around him, a wonder at encountering the world.”

“The whole process of learning, and teaching and learning more, makes me feel so alive,” Markham said. His enthusiasm is apparent to his colleagues. “His curiosity, his quick wit, and his abiding belief in the goodness of us all mark him as one of the outstanding members of our faculty who find new ways each year to contribute to our growth as a school,” said John Cadwell, New Trier’s English department chair.

Tracey Wilson

“Every day in the classroom, Tracey does something that makes someone learn a piece of history that directly relates to their own lives,” said Thomas Moore, principal of Conard High School. “She is preserving our legacy as Americans for all students that walk through her doors. She is, truly, an American hero.”

That may be high praise for Dr. Tracey Wilson, but Williams senior Heather Bemis would say that all of this commendation is warranted. Calling herself “somewhat of a spectator” for the first half of high school, Bemis enrolled in Bradbury’s A.P. U.S. History course and soon learned how to articulate her views in class. “Dr. Wilson encouraged me to take an active role in the classroom, and eventually speaking out and sharing my opinions became a habit instead of a chore.”

EDITED 5/28 based o Jo Procter’s comment (awarded vs. announced) – thanks!

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