Teachers in public high schools across the nation have a warm spot in their hearts for Brigham Young University because of a recognition program set up eight years ago by the BYU Alumni Association.
Ida Smith, program coordinator, said the alumni designed the Excellence in Teaching Award to honor high school teachers all over the country who do an outstanding job of preparing their students for work, university study and life."The letters we have received from the teachers make it all worthwhile," she said. A 1991 recipient wrote, "Without exception, this is the highest honor I have received in my teaching career. I cannot fully express my gratitude."
Another wrote, "Words could not describe my feelings when I read your letter announcing that I had been chosen to receive one of the 1991 Student Alumni Board's Awards for Excellence in High School Teaching. An award such as this brings a lump to one's throat. An unsolicited award such as yours causes one to reflect on how lucky he is to be working with the young people of our future. I am deeply touched!"
In the early 1980's, many teachers were "taking a hard rap," according to Smith, because of the David P. Gardner presidential task force report entitled "A Nation at Risk." It criticized high school educators and high school education.
Smith decided in 1983 to organize the recognition program. Because BYU has students who have graduated from high schools in every state of the union, she began polling them, asking about their most memorable teachers.
High schools involved in the recognition program have at least 30 former students on the BYU campus. Utah schools chosen have at least 200 former students at BYU, according to Smith.
"It has been an absolute win-win situation," said Smith. She said the BYU Alumni Association has honored teachers from Hawaii to Virginia and from Alaska to Texas.
A total of 99 teachers have been recognized during the program's eight years. The selection procedure involves sending ballots to the students asking them to name the three high school teachers, in preferential order, who had the greatest impact on their education. Many of the teachers selected by students have been named "the best teacher I ever had" and honored with other awards such as teacher of the year.
The Alumni Association gives each honored teacher a plaque and a $100 stipend. Smith said, "I wish we could give $1,000 to each one - they deserve it."