The Milken Educator Awards are often referred to as the “Oscars of Teaching.” And though the award itself may not come with a walk down a red carpet or a golden statuette, Complete High School Maize teacher Heidi Albin was no less shocked when her name was called as a winner during a school assembly on Thursday.
She can buy her own red carpet now. The award comes with a $25,000 check.
“I’m numb. I just can’t believe it,” Albin said. “I never would have thought I would be receiving something like this. I’m very, very honored.”
Jane Foley of the Milken Family Foundation, based in Santa Monica, Calif., tried to sum up just how important the award is in the teaching profession.
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“We’re here to present The Milken Educator Award to an educator that we believe represents the top one percent of the teaching profession,” Foley said.
“We go all over the country to find the best of the best, and until their name is announced, they don’t even know they’re being considered.”
So elite is the award, Albin is the only teacher in the state of Kansas who will receive it this year. Forty-three educators will receive the award nationally this year. Albin teaches science to grades nine through 12 at Complete High School Maize, an alternative high school where students must meet the same curriculum requirements as all students from Maize and Maize South High schools.
The Milken Educator Awards were created by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987 to recognize teaching excellence. More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall initiative, according to the Milken Family Foundation.
A news release by the foundation described Albin’s teaching practices this way: “Her first priority is to make her students scientists. Albin designed a self-paced, multi-science curricula with numerous programs and real-life experiences that deeply engage students while teaching ownership, responsibility and character. When surveyed, 23 percent of them said they were interested in science before taking her class. That percentage increased to 82 percent after experiencing Albin’s innovative instruction and activities.”
“We’re looking for very specific criteria in terms of who is selected,” Foley said.
“It’s someone that has very innovative practices, but also results. Someone who’s a leader in the profession. Not only in the school, but in the district and in this state. We’re looking for someone that has such a strong influence on others, that they’re considered a role model.”
Albin said she thought that described every one of her fellow staff members at Complete High School Maize.
“Before I heard my name I was thinking, ‘I’m so glad that one of the staff members gets to have it.’ And I was going through my head of every single one of the staff members and thinking, ‘It’s gotta be them, it’s gotta be them, they deserve it. I’m so glad they’re gonna get it.’ And then I heard my name and I thought, ‘Oh no, that must be a mistake.’”
Albin’s principal, Kristy Custer, said she was not surprised by Albin’s humbleness, or that she received the award.
“I’m just so excited for Heidi,” Custer said.
“She is an outstanding educator. She is an outstanding person who not only represents Complete High School Maize well, but she also represents the teaching profession well.”