Myron Martin, president and CEO of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, remembers the day his fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Fletcher, changed his life.
She took the class to see the Houston Grand Opera.
“I will never forget walking in the grand lobby and being amazed by it, being escorted into the eighth-row center where my seats were, feeling the mohair fabric on the seats,” Martin said. “And the house lights came down, and the curtain went up, and I got goosebumps. I swear, I knew that day somehow I’d be involved in the theater business.”
To honor such inspirational teachers, Martin created the Heart of Education Awards, modeled after a similar program in Washington, D.C.
The Smith Center will host the third annual awards ceremony on April 20, treating 900 nominated teachers to a special theater production, with cash prizes of $5,000 for the top 20 and a $1,000 donation to the school program of their choice.
Martin said most teachers turn around and invest the money back into their classrooms and students.
“It’s a way of each of us, just members of the community, being able to say, ‘You changed my life’ or ‘Thank you for what you did for my kid’ or ‘You’re an amazing teacher; I see your work,’” Martin said.
Hela Naziri, a 2017 top award winner who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology at Cheyenne High School, used her prize money to help immigrant students pay their college tuitions, stock a classroom food pantry and help students pay for summer school.
Naziri said teaching goes beyond book learning. “If someone’s cold, I give them my jacket; that’s just how my parents raised me,” she said. “When my students ask how they can thank me, I tell them I don’t want anything. I tell them, ‘You do good for three more people.’”
The public can nominate teachers for the Heart of Education Awards through 5 p.m. Jan. 18 online here. The program is only open to public school teachers. Finalists will be notified in the spring.
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