Sunday, April 10, 2016

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 10: My Proudest Moment

It's day 10 of my 30 day journey already. A third of the way to the finish line. Today's topic is my proudest moment. As it was with an earlier post, I struggle to talk on the subject of things of which I'm proud, at least about myself. But when I saw this prompt, two events popped into my head. That I could so easily pinpoint proud moments probably means I'm a prideful person. I hope not. At any rate, here we go. As I said, two moments popped into my head, one as a writer and one as a teacher. I'm going to talk about the teaching one.

My good friend Dan with
me at the state Milken
It was the fall of 2005. Three friends and colleagues and I were in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, having just finished doing technology training for teachers the night before. We had to get up and be back to school that afternoon for an assembly with someone from the WV Department of Education and then parent-teacher conferences. Normally the late sleeper in the group, my best friend Dan Daniel suggested we get up unusually early and hit the road. It seemed a bit odd, but he claimed he had papers to grade and didn't want to waste time. So off we went, coffee in hand.

About halfway between Martinsburg and Parkersburg, there's a lovely store that sells produce and local products. It was fall in apple country, so we were hoping to stop and pick some up. But just as we were about to pull off the road, Dan, who was driving the lead vehicle, announced that the place looked closed and stayed on the interstate. I could see that the parking lot was partially filled, but it was too late to argue. Something was odd, but I had no idea yet just what was up.
Jane Foley, who announced that
I had received the Milken.

We got to school just in time for an assembly of the entire staff in the auditorium. But it wasn't just staff. There were people there from the local newspaper and television station, as well as several folks in suits. One I recognized as Dr. Paine, our state superintendent of schools. Mr. Board, our principal at the time, introduced Dr. Paine, who came to the microphone and announced that the reason we were given for meeting was bogus. Instead of talking about new curriculum, he was there to introduce a lady named Jane Foley, who was from the Milken Family Foundation.
Me at the state celebration
with a young lady named
Marissa who we unofficially
adopted for a while. I was
honored that she accompanied
us to the state dinner.

As soon as he said that, I knew what was going to happen. Dan had won the Milken National Educator Award fifteen years before. No other teacher from Wood County ever had. But someone else from Parkersburg High School was about to. Ms. Foley described the award as "the Academy Awards for teachers" and explained that only two teachers per state received it each year as a way to acknowledge a teacher who is student-centered and innovative and who takes a leadership role outside the classroom. And the best part is it's a total surprise. There's no application. They find you. The candidate is completely clueless about it until his or her name is called. As she talked, I chattered in Dan's ear about who he thought it might be. Could it be Jim Dennis? Woody Wilson? Sue Steinbeck? So many amazing teachers deserved it. But Dan, normally as much of a chatterbox as I, was just a sphinx.

And then she said it. "The recipient of the Milken National Educator Award from West Virginia is Mr. Joseph Stephens." I was speechless. I looked at Dan and uttered these immortal words. "I'm glad I wore a tie." A lot of the next hour is kind of a blur. I was interviewed by the reporters and shook more hands than a politician at a rally. Then I called my wife and family and told them. Every time I told someone, I had to explain what it was. Only teachers know about the Milken. When I said they were going to hand me a $25,000 check--that, they understood, though.
Me receiving my check from
Lowell Milken.

It wasn't about the money. It was the recognition. And I don't mean recognition as in notoriety, but as in recognition that what I was doing inside and out of the classroom, for students and colleagues, was worthy. It was effective. And to be put on the same level with my friend Dan is way more humbling than something of which I'm proud. If I am a good teacher, it's because of Dan and his wife Becky, who were my mentors and will always be my yardstick when it comes to quality teaching. So if someone tells me I measure up to them, I guess I'm okay with feeling a little proud.


  1. Well now that is a great post! I think I know that apple place since I live very close to Martinsburg. Now listen to me Johnboy, you have no reason to think this post is like a bragging or being vain. Trust me most see that you are humble and well if that preacher and family is as good as you say they are.... Seems to me that you already are a winner!

    1. Thank you! Sorry so long in replying. I was already in bed when this came through. I'm an early riser. You're very kind.

  2. Replies
    1. I'm still convinced it was a clerical error and they're going to ask for the money back any day.