It happens more times than some would believe.
Thanks to a legion of quality mentors in our Cleveland and Bradley County school systems, we feel sure such moments take place regularly in our hometown.
One teacher from our community’s past who played a resounding role in bringing joy to the learning process among her students was the late Lillie F. Fitzgerald, a much beloved, 37-year English and speech instructor at Bradley Central High School. It is this impassioned, and talented, former teacher for whom an Excellence in Teaching Award is named.
This tribute to quality in the classroom and dedication to the cause comes annually through the Bradley/Cleveland Public Education Foundation. The award is endowed by Dr. and Mrs. Rodney Fitzgerald, son of the late Mrs. Fitzgerald. He too is an educator, now retired from Cleveland State Community College.
Each fall, the Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award is presented to a Cleveland City Schools or Bradley County Schools instructor during teacher in-service and orientation in preparation for the start of a new school season.
The biggest honor in earning this meritorious award is the prestige it brings to the recipient. It is not an accolade of common value. Honorees share a great legacy, one forged by a visionary of education who believed in the process and extolled its many virtues, not just in word of mouth but in act and deed.
Of course, the recipient of this worthy honor also picks up a $3,000 cash award. Few can argue the attraction of such an incentive.
Nominations for this Excellence in Teaching Award are being accepted through April 15. They may be made by supervisors, peers, students, friends or family. Nomination criteria include:
1. Must be employed as a full-time, certified, K-12 teacher in Cleveland City or Bradley County Schools with a minimum of five years’ experience.
2. Demonstrates a passion for teaching and inspires students with a love of learning.
3. Communicates effectively across all racial, cultural and economic backgrounds.
4. Utilizes creative, current and relevant teaching strategies.
5. Is admired and respected by students, parents and colleagues.
6. Must be involved personally in the community.
7. Embodies the spirit of teaching demonstrated by Lillie F. Fitzgerald; that is, being professional, articulate and passionate about education.
Stir the above ingredients together in a melting pot of learning and rising to the surface like cream will be the epitome of great teaching. A textbook example is found in the memory of Lillie F. Fitzgerald.
All nominations are reviewed by a panel of evaluators unrelated to either school system. Complete application guidelines and additional information about the award can be found on the BCPEF website at www.bcpef.org.
It came to no one’s surprise when Mrs. Fitzgerald was inducted into the Tennessee Teachers Hall of Fame in 1995. Her nomination came from a most appropriate group of admirers — a collection of her former students.
Those who knew this teacher also know this. She prized academic performance. She recognized her students. She established clubs, programs and organizations that further prepared her pupils for college and perhaps the teaching profession.
She was the teacher the kids wanted.
She was the teacher the parents admired.
She was the teacher her colleagues respected.
Lillie F. Fitzgerald was to teaching what the textbook is to learning. She was a presence. She was an inspiration. She was all that is still good about her profession.
We hope for a broad field of nominees.
That’s because we have a vast array of excellent teachers.