Friday, December 2, 2016.
Even after nearly quadrupling the choir participation at Greenspun Junior High School, Heather Houchens admits that leaving the teaching profession crossed her mind once or twice.
“I say I’m going through my midlife crisis. Starting a couple years ago, I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to keep teaching,’” says Houchens, Greenspun’s choral program teacher for the past 15 years.
She didn’t feel that way in May 2016, however, when she stood on stage in Reynolds Hall in The Smith Center as one of 20 winners of the first-ever Heart of Education Awards, hosted by The Smith Center with The Rogers Foundation to honor exceptional teachers for going above and beyond.
Selected from nearly 1,000 nominated teachers, Houchens says she had no words when she received the award, along with a $5,000 cash prize and $1,000 given to a program of her choice at her school.
“As a teacher, you commit your heart and do so much and work so much, and forget that people do recognize it,” she says. “It was a reminder that what you do as a teacher really does impact lives.”
Houchens certainly deserved this reminder, after building her school’s number of choirs from four to six, and growing the number of participating students from less than 150 to 400.
She also develops students’ self-esteem and leadership skills by organizing talent shows, community performances and activities that promote performance and teamwork.
“Students are more caring, they’re more passionate, they’re more determined,” she says of the impact of performing. “They learn how to work together.”
Winning a Heart of Education Award has bolstered her resolve to continue teaching, Houchens says.
Just attending the awards ceremony at The Smith Center — where more than 800 teachers were recognized and treated to a night of entertainment — made her feel valued, she says.
“I love the fact that it was for teachers,” she says. “I loved the whole night, every ounce of it, from the show to the energy in the room, to being surrounded by hundreds of teachers who do commit their hearts (to teaching).”
The $1,000 given to her school has also played an important role, helping provide new risers for student performances.
“The students are excited to stand on their new risers for their concert in December,” Houchens says.
She believes the awards program helps raise awareness of the difference teachers make through their hard work, she says.
This remains important to Houchens, who experienced the benefits of this herself when attending Green Valley High School.
“I was going to quit choir after middle school, and my high school music director said, ‘Just give me a chance,’” she remembers. “I stuck with it, and she’s the reason I am where I am today.”
Nominate outstanding CCSD teachers for the 2017 Heart of Education Awards now through January 31 at: www.theheartofeducation.org.
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