Two Lake County teachers from Bannockburn and North Chicago are among 30 finalists for the coveted Golden Apple Award for fourth- to eighth-grade teachers in Illinois.
Tesha Castillo, a fifth- to eighth-grade teacher at LEARN 6 Charter School on the Great Lakes Naval Base, and Kathy Garneau, a kindergarten to eighth-grade teacher at Bannockburn School in Bannockburn, were chosen from a record 732 teachers nominated for the honor, according to Madeline Spiker, spokeswoman for Golden Apple.
Recipients of the 2020 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching will be announced this spring. Each winner receives a spring semester sabbatical at Northwestern University and a $5,000 cash prize.
The finalists will be honored at the Golden Apple Celebration of Excellence in Teaching and Leadership at the Q Center in St. Charles on Feb. 22.
Both Garneau of Arlington Heights and Castillo of Gurnee said they were thrilled to hear the news.
“I’m absolutely over the moon. It’s special and I’m grateful,” Castillo said. “Honestly, it is really an honor. To be honored and acknowledged for something I love to do anyway and be in the company of people who understand what a blessing it is to be a teacher and change futures one day at a time and one child at a time is fantastic.”
“This is like the Academy Awards for teachers,” Garneau said. “I was so honored to be nominated because it means someone recognized the work I’m doing. It was such an honor. When I got a message that I was moving forward as a finalist, it blew me away. Now I was actually selected on my own merits.”
Garneau, who was recognized for her work with fourth- through eighth-graders, serves as the librarian, STEM specialist, instructional coach and technology coach at tiny Bannockburn, which recently surpassed 160 students with 10 transfer students in January, she said.
“We wear many hats, because my school is very small,” said Garneau, who has taught 15 years at Bannockburn, not including a two-year leave of absence to raise her daughter.
Garneau added that she helped launch the specialized science, technology, math and engineering program in 2015 and began instructional coaching last year.
“The cool thing about STEM is that some kids who do not stand out as leaders in a classroom really stand out in a STEM classroom,” she said. “They’re hands-on learners. They get lost in what they’re doing. I love that. If you can problem-solve, that is just as valuable as a skill. And oh boy, I get some kids who really shine.”
Garneau said her favorite thing about teaching “depends on the day.”
“I have so many. It’s hard to pick one favorite,” she said. “This week it is knowing that I am truly making a difference for a kid. I had some moments of that this week. Some of those are confidential because they are with kids who have challenges. But we had a moment where we said, ‘Yes, we got it. We’re doing this. This is a good thing.’”
Castillo, who is teaching English language arts to eighth-graders this year, said she taught the same subject to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders last year and fifth-, seventh- and eighth-graders the year before that, she said.
“It all depends on the year and what the kids need,” she said.
After six or seven years at Zion Central Middle School in Zion, Castillo is in her fifth year at LEARN 6, she said.
Castillo agreed that it is difficult to pick one favorite thing about teaching, but if she had to narrow it down, “It’s being able to see tomorrow through yesterday’s eyes.”
“We are running the world right now,” she said of teachers. “When you look at a child and understand they are the ones who ‘got next,’ the world shifts. All of a sudden, you realize you’re getting people ready to take over.
“You have a chance to make the world way different than we imagine,” she added. “You can create positive change in small moments using small skills we all need to be productive, educated citizens.”
Phil Rockrohr is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.