One of my favorite jobs is getting to call 12 teachers each year, listening to them almost hyperventilate and then celebrating with them that they’ve been named a finalist for the state Teacher of the Year.
The next best moment is naming one of the finalists to the state’s top honor for teachers. This year, that honor went to Peter L. Markes, an 8th- through 12th-grade string orchestra and Advanced Placement music theory teacher from Edmond North High School.
I’m thrilled for Mr. Markes. His passion for students and their families, his talent and dedication, and his willingness to share his time and abilities to represent teachers throughout the state is remarkable.
The fact that he was chosen above 11 other equally deserving candidates is even more impressive.
Over the course of the summer, I was privileged to spend time with these 12 finalists. I heard from each of them their desire to change the lives of children by offering them education, love, mentorship and more. By changing the lives of their students, they are helping to change our world. They are preparing these students not just for the next lesson or the next test, but for the rest of their lives.
Mr. Markes used a quote from Japanese educator Shinichi Suzuki to explain his philosophy, “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”
I too am interested in creating good citizens – ones who can find their purpose in life and have the tools to pursue it, ones who are equipped to find jobs they love that will support them and their future families. Giving a child the best education gives that future adult the best choices. We don’t want anyone to be limited because they didn’t receive the best education we could provide.
That’s what great teachers do every day. They see those children who are on the sidelines – maybe because of poverty or a learning disability, or maybe because they are gifted and are not being challenged in traditional classrooms. They see those children and they build relationships with them and they find the keys to unlock the individual door to learning for each child. They do this with whatever resources they have on hand, despite being paid less than their peers in many other professions.
When those children are grown, hopefully they return to their teachers and tell them of the difference they made in their lives. Finalist Eddie Lou Strimple, from Enid, told just such a story at our Teacher of the Year celebration this week. She told of a student who is pursuing his life’s passion of becoming an opera singer. The dream for him started in Ms. Strimple’s sixth-grade classroom, unbeknownst to her. She said he came back years later and told her she was the reason he had pursued his dream. He thanked her for finding her passion so that he could find his.
Lee Iacocca said, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.” I appreciate this sentiment. Teachers deserve our praise, our support, our love and our gratitude.
On Tuesday, we showed Mr. Markes, our 12 finalists, many of our district Teachers of the Year and our new Rising Star Teachers a bit of praise and gratitude. Our sponsors helped lavish these people with gifts. But the best gifts are yet to come – the changed lives of children throughout our state. These children grow up to be caring adults; they never stop learning; they find jobs they love; they contribute back to our state; they instill their values in future generations; some become teachers. This circle continues, and that is the most amazing gift of all.