Lindsey Constance, a sixth-grade science teacher at Bluejacket-Flint Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District, has joined an elite group of teachers: She has won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Each year the award is presented to no more than 108 teachers nationwide. Winners “serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education,” according to the award website.
In Kansas, 86 math and science teachers have received the award since its inception in 1983. Past Kansan recipients say that by recognizing excellent educators, the presidential award has facilitated a growing network of passionate teachers dedicated to improving math and science education throughout the state.
Constance, who credits her achievement to a small network of energetic individuals, is a product of that growing network.
“I grew up in Shawnee Mission schools,” she said. “… My fifth-grade teacher, Georgia Smith, won the presidential award and she was one of the teachers that got me really excited about science and that made a big difference for me.”
“Now, years later, I’m (winning the award) as well.”
Georgia Smith, who won the 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, has retired from full-time teaching, but now substitutes in Shawnee Mission schools. She recently found herself substituting in one of Constance’s science classes.
“Her students reflect the passion she has for science,” Smith said. “Before I got the award, I had that passion but when you’re recognized it brings out even more passion.
“I’ve been giggling ever since she told me she won,” Smith said. “I’m very proud of her.”
In all of Johnson County, 34 educators have received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching since 1983; 12 were from the Shawnee Mission School District.
“I think what Shawnee Mission is really good at is hiring,” said Constance. “They hire really good teachers. Where I work now” at Bluejacket-Flint Elementary in Shawnee, “we have a phenomenal staff. I’m not surprised that our district has had so many winners of this award.”
Another previous award winner, Cindy Couchman, nominated Constance.
Couchman, who won the award in 2009, is a math teacher in Buhler, Kan. and state teacher of the year. She worked with Constance on part of a Kansas State University-sponsored program aimed at “enhancing the usefulness, practicality, and relevance of sensor technology in education.”
“I’ve traveled a lot (for work) and met a lot of teachers, so when I saw Lindsey, I could recognize a great teacher,” said Couchman. “A good teacher has a balance of passion for the content and compassion for the student. You can have one of those and be good, but not great. You need both. Add a little charisma and you’ve got a great teacher.”
After receiving the nomination, Constance submitted a lesson plan, wrote a narrative, and filmed herself teaching. She was notified in December 2012 that she was a state finalist and last month that she was a national finalist.
“Even if you have passion, it’s not an easy award to get,” said Smith. “The year I won there was a gal at the reception who’d been applying for five years and finally received it. You can’t do it without the other teachers, staff and students at your school.”
During an award-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C., Constance will receive a certificate signed by President Barack Obama and a $10,000 check from the National Science Foundation. She’ll attend a reception where she’ll network with other math and science teachers from around the nation and participate in professional development seminars.
Couchman said the weeklong trip is jam-packed with “amazing workshops.”
“You spend a week in D.C. getting your eyes opened and getting a global look at education,” said Couchman. “It’s really powerful. It changes how you see your own education community and it opens you up to a network.”
After attending the conference, Couchman said, she became a member of a virtual network with other like-minded and highly proficient teachers.
“We share resources, thoughts and struggles. You get advice from some of the best teachers in the country,” said Couchman. “Excellence breeds excellence.”
Constance said she thinks she’ll display the award certificate in her classroom. Smith, who has a Presidential Award certificate signed by President Bill Clinton, said the certificate’s value was possibly greater than the check she received.
“It tells people, ‘Maybe she does know what she’s talking about,’ ” said Smith. “It doesn’t sound glamorous to tell people you’re a fifth-grade science teacher, but when the president has said you’re a good one … suddenly doors are open that weren’t before and it gives you credibility.”
Couchman feels similarly about receiving the award.
“The award goes a long way to recognize what’s right about education,” she said. “It’s validation. As a teacher, particularly of young children like Lindsey is, you don’t get much validation.”