BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
Monica Phillips didn’t think she would be named the Clarkston Foundation Teacher of the Year, so she told her husband to stay home and not attend the ceremony last Wednesday at the Clarkston Community Schools Administration Building.
Turns out, she had reason to celebrate after all when she heard her name called by Matt Evans, the Teacher of the Year Committee chair.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Phillips, a Language Arts teacher at Sashabaw Middle School. “Knowing the other nominees, and so many of them I have worked with in the ELA Department, and just knowing the work they do each day, the connections and relationships that they have, to have students and past students come back and say they loved a certain teacher, to have it narrowed down to me, I just can’t even imagine what a decision that was. So many phenomenal names to pick from.”
Along with Phillips, the other nominees for Teacher of the Year included Kristine Butcher (SMS), Jennifer Berman and Jennifer Halligan (Clarkston Junior High), Matt Klaver and Rachel Vickers (Clarkston High School), Patricia Hillaker (Renaissance High School), and Cherene Ahlborn and Fawn Phillips (Clarkston Virtual).
Phillips, who has been a teacher in Clarkston for the past 18 years, said the family-like environment is the work of many individuals.
“When people find out I teach in Clarkston, they automatically say, ‘I love Clarkston,’” Phillips said. “That really comes from the top with their push for excellence and that social-emotional well-being and building relationships. They are allowing us to take time to do that. The kids in front of us, just being humans, that’s what comes first.”
Teaching through a pandemic is something Phillips never thought she would ever do, but she faced the challenge head-on this year.
“This year was tough,” said Phillips. “I think just the going back and forth, the in-person, the distance learning, and my husband and I are both teachers and we have four school-aged students, so it was tough on our family, but I also think it gave me some good perspective of what my own students were going through.
“My own four kids are at all different levels at middle school and elementary, and getting kids engaged in distance learning was definitely the challenge, but I found it pushed me as a teacher to be more innovative and creative in building those relationships, which was a lot harder to do on a screen. That was my No. 1 goal. Language Arts skills will come, but if they don’t feel a connection, they’re not going to care enough to come and like school.”
Along with a monetary award, Phillips also gets a free two-year lease on a vehicle of her choice from the Randy Wise Automotive Team.
Does she have her eyes on a certain ride?
“I don’t know,” laughed Phillips. “Do I get something that fits my whole family? Do I get a cool car for mom?
“That will be the big debate at home, I’m sure.”