Plainfield School District 202 elementary teacher Lee Parrott will always remember his birthday seven years ago.
On that day back in 2015, he learned he was one of 10 Chicago-area teachers to win the prestigious Golden Apple Award for exceptional teaching. Nearly 600 teachers were nominated for the award that year.
A committee of college and university professors, administrators and former award recipients review each nominee. They also visit the teacher to observe them and speak to peers, supervisors, parents and students.
Parrott said he got word of the sentiments shared by those interviewed and said it was “pretty powerful” to know how highly his peers and families felt about the job he does.
“It allowed me to self-reflect to say, ‘Wow, you’re kind of doing something right,’” Parrott said of the experience.
Parrott was only the second teacher from Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 to win the award.
It was a big achievement for a teacher who’s spent 20 years in District 202, first at Wesmere Elementary and now at the new Wallin Oaks Elementary.
Parrott said he was drawn to education because of the connection teachers can make with their students.
“There was something about that relationship,” he said. “It is the key to education.”
He added, “I didn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Parrott said his approach starts with the first day of each school year. He tells his class they are a “learning family.” It’s an approach he said has helped him throughout his career.
“By placing that umbrella over the idea of school has allowed me to foster that [relationship] and make it really solid each and every year,” he said. “My kids know that I love them and I think they know because they tell me.”
Parrott said he also valued being nimble and willing to learn more himself, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when teaching went remote.
To compound the difficult situation, Parrot said he lost his father that spring. It was a moment that forced him to reflect on his job and to see the challenge as an opportunity because “you never know what life’s going to bring you,” he said.
The situation prompted Parrott to learn more about the technology to conduct his class remotely. He learned how to convert his lesson plan to a digital format, something he said he’d never had to think about before.
He also saw how difficult remote learning was for some of his students. Parrott said he saw that some of his students didn’t have a support system at home and some had distractions in the background while they were learning.
So this school year when teachers and students were back in person, Parrott said it was “so refreshing.” He added he could “almost feel a sense of normalcy.”
That wasn’t the only change he’s experienced, as he signed up to be one of the teachers to open up District 202′s newest building at Wallin Oaks Elementary.
Parrott said that when he was first asked to transfer to the new school from his longtime home at Wesmere Elementary, he was hesitant but decided to do it. He said the experience has been great and that the new faculty and staff have really come together well.
He added this year has been one of his best. Even some his students have told him they didn’t want the year to end.
Parrott said he appreciates those good signs, and remembered another recent email from an eighth grader whom he taught years ago. The student lauded Parrott for when they were in his class and said the experience helped them become and honors student.
Parrott said hearing comments like that from students made him think, “That’s why I’m doing this.”