By Elizabeth Lawson, 4th grade Teacher | Crestline Elementary School
Elizabeth Lawson is a 4th grade teacher at Crestline Elementary School in Vancouver, Wa. and the 2014 OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year in the K-8th category. Lawson was recognized as an OnPoint Prize recipient for creating an environment of engaged students built on mutual trust, empowerment and critical thinking. Lawson’s teaching methods are recognized in professional development courses and she presented on the importance of providing critical thinking opportunities for students living in poverty at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference in 2013. Lawson received her mortgage paid for one school year by OnPoint Community Credit Union, plus $1,000 for her school to be used for resources and supplies.
Recognition for teachers doesn’t typically come in grand gestures, in fact it often has to be inferred. Educators receive gratitude in human moments throughout the day: the smile on a student’s face when they finally constructed a working electrical circuit in science lab, the oh-so-precious, “I get it!” exclaimed during math workshop or the offhanded comment from a budding writer to another (when they think no one else is listening), “Writing used to be hard, but I think I actually kind of like it now.” Teachers tuck these moments away, holding them dear to fuel the infinite amount of work and heart that goes into our profession. Purpose ignites our work. We find purpose in helping students open their own doors of possibility and contribute their ideas, passions and voice to our local and global communities.
Last spring I was scurrying about my classroom answering parent emails, setting up materials for the day and swirling long-term plans around in my mind when our school’s instructional coach quietly entered the classroom.
“I didn’t want to ruin the surprise, but I’m afraid I need some information from you to move forward on this project,” she said.
She explained that some parents from my class community, along with a small team of staff from our school were nominating me for the OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education. I was shocked as she smiled and handed me the nomination letters from the parents and our principal. It had never occurred to me that the job I put my heart and soul into each day, that millions of teachers put their hearts and souls into each day, could be or would be recognized in this manner. With the school day before me, I placed the precious letters carefully on top of the filing cabinet and began the work of gathering a community together for a day of learning and exploration.
That afternoon I stole a few moments to sit down and read the letters. The words were palpable. Parents wrote about these human moments that I see each day. They wrote about what they heard and saw in their children. They wrote about the possibilities their children heard and saw in themselves. They wrote about moments I was never even privy to, that happened at home and were shared between parent and child. They wrote about how our little classroom in Vancouver was a place to take risks, to be creative and to care.
I think about the words on those letters every single day before class. Their thoughts and acknowledgement made me want to strive to do better, teach bigger, listen longer. As educators, we aim to inspire and impact the students in our classroom, who in turn, will contribute their gifts to our community. When an organization takes the time and effort to recognize those very important moments of learning and empowerment happening in schools across the Northwest, we know the impact is reaching beyond the walls of our classrooms.
OnPoint Community Credit Union values the purpose educators from Oregon and Southwest Washington bring to classrooms each day. I was humbled to be acknowledged by this phenomenal organization, along with so many outstanding educators from our community.