“There are really no words to express how much we appreciate a great teacher.”
That’s Juana Martínez, reflecting on her son Paulo’s fourth-grade math teacher, Erica Stewart—the teacher who, according to Ms. Martínez, changed her son’s life.
If you know TNTP, you know we love May. It’s the month we celebrate outstanding teachers in high-need public schools by awarding the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice to four phenomenal educators.
Today, we’re thrilled to announce the fifth class of Fishman Prize winners. They’re an extraordinary bunch. We could go on at length about why we’re inspired by them, and why each and every one is so deserving of this $25,000 prize, a spot in a unique summer residency, and, frankly, so much more.
But we won’t. Instead, we’ll leave that to the people who know them best: their school leaders, the parents in their classrooms, and the students they teach.
Erica Stewart, 4th Grade Math, KIPP Excelencia Community Prep, Redwood City, California
“There are really no words to express how much we appreciate a great teacher, someone who empowers children to chase their dreams. She's empowered my son Paulo to do that.
When my son Paulo switched schools last year, he wasn’t challenged. He had been a strong student at his old school, but now he was getting bored and starting to rebel. It was very frustrating for him, and for me. When we switched again and got him into KIPP, I was hopeful but anxious. I told Ms. Stewart, ‘He's very smart, but last year was horrible for him. I didn't see him move forward.’
Now, Paulo tells me, ‘I love math. I love the way she teaches math.’ And he’s teaching other kids in his group who don’t understand it as well as he does. That’s what I love about her—my son never stops learning in her class. If the kids are doing well, she keeps them moving forward. I can see how she manages those different levels and challenges each kid. She makes math fun for the kids. All the kids are pushing each other.
For her birthday, Paulo wants to buy her flowers, chocolate, a card, everything. I said, ‘Mijo, your mom doesn't have a lot of money, you can't do everything!’ But he wants to give her everything, and she deserves it. I don't think everyone can do a great job as a teacher, because I don't think we all have that skill. Ms. Stewart is everything a teacher should be.”
-Juana Martínez, mother of Paulo, 4th grade
Evelyn Rebollar, High School English, Bronx Arena High School, Bronx, New York
“What stands out about my teacher, Evelyn, is her passion for teaching. She loves her kids. And she’s very compassionate; she understands what we’re going through outside school, and we’re very appreciative of that. She gets us.
Evelyn always challenges us. If we don't understand something, she has the patience to deal with all of us needing help at one time. Every day, we have one-on-ones with her to go over whatever specific things we need help with. She gives us as much time as we need to get it.
When you write an essay for Evelyn, you have to revise it as many times as she says to make it perfect. It can be annoying! But it’s good in the end, because we’re becoming better writers. We’re writing at a college level. That’s what she expects of us.
To Evelyn, I would just say thank you so much. I came to this school with no credits. Over the four years we shared together, you've seen me at my worst and you never gave up on me. Evelyn pushed me, and now I’m on my way to graduating. She helped me further my education and set an example for my daughter. This fall, I’m going to Bronx Community College. That wouldn’t have happened without her.”
-Amanda Roman, 12th grade
Heather Howle, 8th Grade STEM, West Feliciana Middle School, St. Francisville, Louisiana
“If you walk into Heather's classroom, you will see her students actively engaged in their work. They will be working collaboratively, sharing knowledge, and learning from each other. Students love her class, and she is constantly pushing them to the next level.
About three years ago, when she was teaching earth science, Heather started a robotics club for students who didn’t have a club to participate in during an activity period. She was so excited about this club that she convinced administrators that we needed an exploratory STEM class because it could enhance our science, technology, and math departments. We went for it. Today, STEM has done that and more for our school.
Heather works constantly with our science and math teachers to see how she can support their curricula, giving our students the extra reinforcement that makes content more relevant. And she has gone above and beyond, seeking funds from different companies to support her robotics program, and raising over $20,000 to buy equipment for her class. West Feliciana Middle School is very fortunate to have such an outstanding teacher.”
-Jovanka Ganes, Principal
Matthew Patterson, 12th Grade English, Benjamin Banneker High School, College Park, Georgia
“Mr. Patterson’s students exit Banneker transformed by the experience of his classroom. For many students, his class is the first time school is engaging for them. Mr. Patterson’s deep expertise and enthusiasm for his subject matter is palpable.
His lessons are designed to be as intellectually interesting and culturally relevant as possible; I recently sat in on a class where he was teaching literary symbols and archetypes using the Japanese tattooing art of Irezumi and the history of the Yakuza in Japan. Mr. Patterson is usually in the first batch of teachers to arrive in the morning and is almost always available long after school hours to provide individual tutoring.
One of Mr. Patterson’s greatest contributions to Banneker is in our book room. He has transformed the selection from a non-culturally significant canon to selections that are specifically chosen for cultural relevance and rigor. I know of no other school in Fulton County that has as extensive a selection of African American novelists and such a diverse range of contemporary authors. We have everything from James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man to works by Dave Eggers, Sherman Alexie, and Octavia Butler.
Through all his work, Mr. Patterson is proving that our students can succeed on the highest level—they simply need to be taught.”
-John Madden, Jr., Assistant Principal
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