September 06, 2018

The Robert Norris Award for Excellence in Teaching

The Robert Norris Award for Excellence in Teaching is traditionally given at Back to School Night. Here is what Teresa Totorica, Athletics Director said to introduce the award:

Christopher McCandless said: “The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.”

This statement embodied Robert Norris. Robbie was an adventurer; he was always looking for ways to explore and enrich the world around him. He would travel by bus, by train, he would even hitchhike if needed, to get where he wanted to explore. He never had a plan; he just wanted to experience what was out there. He was the kind of person who didn’t care much fpr material things. He would literally give someone his last penny if they needed it. That was the kind of person Robbie was.

He did, however, have his struggles. He always was challenged in school, wasn’t good at following rules. “A free spirit,” his teachers would say. He was special. The teachers who gave him a chance, who were patient with him, who understood his need for attention, saw a kind heart and an old soul in Robbie. His parents were always so thankful when one of his teachers saw his strengths and not just his weaknesses.

Cyndi Baughman, a current McGillis parent and Robbie’s sister, recalls a time when a parent, new to McGIllis, asked her if the teachers sprinkle some sort of ‘magic dust’ on the kids to make them love school. She remembered thinking this very thing her son’s first year. Then his second year, her son had another amazing experience with fantastic teachers and she thought, “well, we maybe just got lucky.” But by the third year, and yet another unbelievable team of teachers, she began to think that all the teachers here are just that good. It is for this reason she feels so fortunate to have helped create this award along with her family.

Robbie was kind, generous, forgiving, funny, exciting, troubled, challenged, creative, artistic. An educator who shares these qualities or who understands students who possess these qualities is a teacher deserving of this award to honor her brother.”

For the last decade, the award has been given and presented by Cyndi. We as faculty sit captivated, listening to Cyndi describe her brother; so open and honest about his strengths, his weaknesses, and his vulnerabilities. We got emotional alongside Cyndi not only in thinking about Robert, but in thinking about all the kids like Robert we’ve taught and are certainly going to teach in the future.

It is why we teach.

It is why we love our jobs.

It also happens to be why so many of us have gray hair.

As you walk down the hallway on the east side of the Library, stop to look at the representation of the bristle cone pine bearing brass books. This beautiful art installation was designed and handcrafted by our colleague and faculty member, Matt Schrier, to honor the recipients of this award. The books were designed and made by current McGillis parent, Shane Larsen. This labor of love by Matt and Shane is a truly fitting tribute to how inspiring Robert’s story is to us as educators.

This award is given to a single faculty member each year, selected by a committee of faculty and administration, to recognize the educator’s contributions to the education, enrichment, and well-being of students, but also to The McGillis School community. This award is specifically designated for the use of the winner to enrich themselves as a student of the world, which, in turn, enriches the world of their students. Funds are to be used for travel, adventure, educational opportunities, and personal and professional enrichment.

Congratulations to our esteemed teacher, Lou Ann Stevens!