Glen Ellyn teacher receives Golden Apple award
Lisa Buchholz doesn't like attention.
Earlier this year, she learned she was nominated for a prestigious teaching award and needed to fill out an application for a selection committee. So she did what any humble educator would do: She let the paperwork sit in her mailbox at Glen Ellyn's Lincoln Elementary for weeks.
Teaching for nearly 30 years, Buchholz has been nominated for awards before and she thought she would maybe ignore this one and let the deadline come and go.
But then her daughter, Kaila, inspired by her mother to become an elementary school teacher, found out about the application and confronted her about it.
"I just saw her looking at me with that face, like, 'Come on, Mom,'" Buchholz says.
So Buchholz decided to go for it, not thinking anything would come of the application to the Golden Apple Foundation.
"I literally sat down, just typed from my heart," Buchholz said. "I didn't try to pretty it up. I just put it right out there. I think the best part of this process for me is that my actual true feelings about teaching -- I feel like they're kind of validated now."
Buchholz received the ultimate validation when her family and peers interrupted her reading lesson Wednesday for a surprise visit to announce she had won the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Turns out Buchholz also doesn't like a lot of cameras.
"I can't even believe this," the first-grade teacher said as her students chanted, "We love Mrs. Buchholz!"
The honor is reserved for 10 Chicago-area teachers chosen from more than 650 nominations -- an unprecedented number -- this year. But it was easy to see why Buchholz is a special teacher, said John Figlewicz, a 1989 Golden Apple recipient who observed Buchholz in her classroom over the course of a school day before sending a report to a committee that reviewed her nomination by Mary Campagna, a parent in the district.
"It's like you can tell the magic and the chemistry the minute you walk into a classroom," said Figlewicz, a former science teacher. "We walked in and we looked at the connections that were being made between her and her students ... and you can tell the sincerity there, the compassion, the love for the job."
Though Buchholz was at a loss for words, her co-workers, parents and administrators "couldn't stop talking about her" in interviews with Figlewicz and another Golden Apple winner when they visited the school.
"We couldn't get them out of the room," Figlewicz said. "We were running over time."
Even before she was old enough to go to school, Kaila Buchholz was drawn to her mother's classroom. She still carries on a tradition she started a toddler, making paper dolls with each student's name to greet them.
"She makes school a place where they love coming and they hate leaving," said the 23-year-old, a student teacher at Pleasant Hill Elementary in Wheaton. "She puts so much energy into getting to know each and every one of them as a personal learner. They're almost like her own children."
Buchholz says she tries to have her first-graders take ownership of their learning, allowing a student to research a fact at home every week and then teach it to their classmates. But she also knows they're excited to come to school and learn because she is, too.
"I really get excited to do the things I create for us to do and ... it's just genuine," said Buchholz, whose husband serves on the school board. "They know I'm not trying to just get them into it. They know I'm really feeling it."
Buchholz will receive a $5,000 cash award and a tuition-free, spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University. She also will become a Fellow of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, a group of winners who mentor college students pursuing teaching careers.
"It can be a demanding job. You just need to realize that going in," she said. "You're going to work hard. You're going to be tired, but it's fun. I can't imagine a different job."