Schaumburg High School English teacher Brian Curtin calls it a humbling honor and credits it to the many educators, students, parents and family members who have shaped him into the teacher he is today -- but the 2012-2013 Illinois Teacher of the Year also believes the award is the beginning of a life-changing opportunity.
Curtin, who was named Teacher of the Year by the Illinois Board of Education on Oct. 20, plans to use the bully pulpit to spread the same message of educational collaboration, communication and working together that inspired him as a teacher.
"I see this award as an opportunity for an experience to spread a message that has been spread throughout all of Schaumburg and District 211," Curtin said. "I find it ironic that this is an award bestowed upon one person, because really it's an award and recognition that belongs to a lot of people.
"If it weren't for the desire to want to continue community and collaboration in the classroom, or working with the educators I have throughout the years, I wouldn't have been able to learn the things that I did without them."
As he prepares for an busy upcoming year, Curtin is ready to share his knowledge, stories, successes and failures with other educators looking to connect with their students on a similar level.
He said he believes his successes with students started from teaching them how to collaboratively learn together through discussions.
He also believes students are responsive when teachers treat their students like people and with respect. Showing a student he or she is cared for, is interesting, and that it's OK to respectfully voice an opinion creates what Curtin calls amazing opportunities in the classroom.
"The biggest challenges in the classroom are the ones that start outside the classroom," he said. "These kids are coming in with real-life problems, and when they sit in my classroom I am asking them to read Shakespeare and to write poetry.
"How do I reach out to my students as people first and make them feel like this is a place where they can feel comfortable? Once they can feel comfortable, I think they will be much more capable of doing many things."
Although Curtin is excited to be named Teacher of the Year and is eager to start speaking with others, he knows the life-changing experience will not change his own educational ideals.
"It's not going to change me, or change the way I am going to approach my students," Curtin says.
Instead, he says, "It's helped me reflect on how much I still have to learn as a teacher, and it made me realize how appreciative I am of all the different ways that I can be a better teacher."
Curtin said the collaborative efforts which have helped him get where he is today are largely a credit to the Schaumburg High School community, students, parents, District 211, his family, and educators he has worked with.
Curtin also will be the Illinois representative in the upcoming National Teacher of the Year competition.
In addition to Curtin, District 211 was well-represented among recipients in the Illinois State Board of Education's 2012 "Those Who Excel" education awards program on Oct. 20.
Other District 211 Those Who Excel award candidates:
• Jennifer Beers, Hoffman Estates High School student services director.
• Jennifer Grapenthin, Palatine High School counselor.
• Andrew Park, system and programming manager.
• Fremd High School VAMP Team: Augie Fontanetta; Chad Jonas; Kristy Loughin-Vance and Antonette Minniti.