By Beth Purcell

We English teachers love words.  When I consider what it means to be a teacher, I think of words such as “motivator,” “inspirer” and “educator.”  I don’t think of “famous,” or “lauded” or “acclaimed.” Teachers really don’t expect applause; our students’ success is our reward. While celebrity is unlikely, gratitude doesn’t have to be nonexistent.  Teachers work very hard.

PublicSchoolOptions.org agrees.  That’s why we hold the annual American Pioneer of Teaching Award contest, which recognizes excellence in teaching among educators at charter, virtual and magnet schools.  As a parent and new board president, I have the privilege of announcing that this year’s award nomination period begins April 2.

Last year’s award process was a fulfilling and encouraging event as more than 900 parents, students, and teachers submitted names for consideration. Nominees and votes for the 2012 finalists poured in from across the country along with personal, emotional and triumphant stories about the impact a teacher has had.   The response was a warm reminder that the value of teaching is far-reaching, that time spent nurturing a student’s mind yields more than a grade in the grade book – it builds a love of learning and an appreciation for subject matter and life skills.

This truth applies to all teachers, but the teachers recognized by the American Pioneer of Teaching Award overcome unique challenges to make their impact.  As a former brick-and-mortar English teacher whose children have attended my state’s public virtual charter school, I can speak to that fact with some insight.

Educators at nontraditional schools are – true to the award’s name – pioneering.  Many teach in classrooms very unlike the ones they grew up in.  These teachers may not dust the chalk off their hands at the end of the day.  They may not address a classroom of students who are dismissed when the school bell rings.  They may face social misconceptions and budgetary limitations that traditional public school teachers do not encounter, even though they are state certified just as their teaching colleagues.

Yet, they thrive in spite – or perhaps because – of these differences.   The students they educate are a testament to that fact, and they do so in magnet, charter and virtual schools that seek students’ best interests, not bureaucracy or tradition, above all else.

So, once again, I encourage those who have benefitted from a pioneering teacher:  Submit your nomination to www.PublicSchoolOptions.org.   Your story can be the inspiration and encouragement another student may need.

Beth Purcell is President of PublicSchoolOptions.org, a national alliance of parents that supports and defends parents’ rights to access the best public school options for their children.

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