More than 40 teachers from throughout the Bloomington-Normal school districts were honored at the inaugural Not In Our School awards ceremony Monday night.
NIOS is a branch of Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal, an organization dedicated to ending bigotry in local communities. NIOS aims to make a safe and inclusive environment for all students.
The ceremony was first conceived last summer, when the NIOS coalition searched for a way to recognize the work being done by local teachers. Instead of creating one major award that could be won, the group decided to recognize the many kinds of exemplary work done in the community.
“We didn’t want there to be winners, per se, because everyone here is doing such great work,” high school senior and NIOS leader Carys Lovell said. “But we wanted to highlight staff work that was truly special.”
Forty-three certificates of appreciation were given to teachers from various school districts in the area, including an award for the entire staff of Parkside Elementary School.
Each award highlighted important work that the teacher had done to make their schools and community a more inclusive place.
While these awards highlighted exemplary work, many of the recipients said they were only doing their job.
“What I’ve learned during my seven years of teaching is that my most important job is not teaching the English curriculum, but making kids feel safe, welcome and empowered to be themselves,” award recipient and Normal Community High School English teacher Kaitlyn Baez said.
Baez went on to say that if the basic needs of safety and security are not met for a student, then their learning is hindered.
Many of the teachers use their classroom as a space for students to relax, make friends and find a supportive environment. Other teachers, such as Amanda Long of Normal Community West, helped students start up clubs like the Pride Group and safely express themselves.
“I had this misconception that you had to be a super-activist and super knowledgeable about LGBT things or other topics, but really that’s not true,” Long said.
“You just have to have a genuine love and care for these kids and want to show up and support them.”
The event also allowed time for nominees and attendees to discuss ways to promote inclusivity in schools.
Lovell said that a purpose of the event was not only to recognize good work, but to have award recipients share their ideas and motivations to inspire other schools.
“The basis of everything is started with relationships,” District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly said.
Reilly went on to say that what makes the teachers special is that they say yes to the needs of their students and are willing to help.