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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching
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Our annual prize for exceptional teachers, the $25,000 Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, is more than just an award. It is an opportunity for teachers learn and grow, and to share their vision more widely than in their classroom or school.

During a summer residency, winners articulate what makes their practice uniquely effective by contributing to our essay series, and share their views while meeting with education policy with leaders in the field. They weigh in on the most critical issues of the day, and grow friendships with fellow Prize-winning teachers. Then, they bring those experiences back to their classrooms.

Today, 2013 Fishman Prize Winner Javier Velazquez reflects on his experience, as we open applications for the 2014 award.

I’ve never heard my father shout with as much excitement as he did last May, when I called to tell him I was a 2013 Fishman Prize winner. The TNTP entourage had just left my classroom, where they had come to announce the news. My school’s dean was attempting to calm my bouncing students. And I was in a corner of the school hallway, desperately trying to control my emotions as my father congratulated me through his own joyful tears. It was the first of many exhilarating moments that followed my winning the Fishman Prize.

It's amazing to think how quickly my understanding and perspective of the world of education changed. One minute, I was in Chicago, wrapping up another satisfying school year of conquering my students’ fear of math, and a few weeks later, I was in New York, reflecting on my summer residency reading list alongside Jennifer Corroy, Josalyn Tresvant and Keith Robinson. Then, it was back home to Chicago, to prepare to write my essay on rigor and questioning techniques in teaching math. And finally, we visited Washington, D.C., where we met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Senator Dick Durbin, among others.

Sitting in those meetings, listening to the experts and my fellow winners reflect on the challenges we share, and sharing my own perspectives pushed me to grow like no other experience in my 10 years of teaching. I left those conversations more informed and, more importantly, more confident in knowing that my voice matters.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to reflect. During the residency, I explored my own practice and was pushed to articulate what I see as the hallmarks of effective teaching. It was a stretch: In my own classroom, I feel like I'm starting to figure out this teaching thing, but unpacking and describing effective practice for others was a challenge. I gained a greater appreciation for the complexity of teaching, as well as the skills and language to talk about those complexities.

Now that I’m back at school, I often hear myself saying, "I have so much more I need to try in my classroom!" After hearing my fellow winners describe their classrooms, I went home excited to try making trackers, talking about aliens and throwing crumpled certificates at my students. Being surrounded by such amazing educators and people was humbling—and it made me want to up my game. I hope that every teacher has the opportunity to meet and interact with an irreplaceable at some point in their career—an exceptional fellow teacher who inspires them and pushes them to want and achieve more for their students.

The Fishman Prize experience could have ended with that phone call to my father (and maybe only a few thousand dollars), and I definitely would have been grateful. But I'm so thankful that it didn't.

Fishman Prize Winner Javier Velazquez is an effectiveness coach at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, and a former 6th grade teacher at the Howe School of Excellence, both in Chicago.