Back in July, when Lauren Lane received an email from the Tennessee Department of Education, she read it twice.
After the first time, she thought, “Let me read that again. I must be misunderstanding something. There’s no way—.”
She read it again and despite her surprise, the sixth-grade science teacher at Central Magnet School had been selected as a state-level finalist for the 2017-2018 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
The award recognizes her outstanding contributions as a science teacher in Tennessee, according to an email Lane received from the Department of Education informing her of her selection.
Lane’s finalist status — one of only four from Tennessee — will now advance to the national-level competition. Those selections — two from every state — will be made by the National Science Foundation.
Lane summarized her feelings with two words — humbled and surprised.
“She is an outstanding science teacher in our district and a tremendous representative for this honor,” said Barbara Powers, the middle school coordinator for Rutherford County Schools.
It was Powers who encouraged Lane to apply for the presidential recognition.
The application process started in October 2017 and needed to be completed by the first week of May. It included three letters of recommendation, information regarding the demographic and socioeconomic makeup of her school, information regarding Rutherford County Schools, she videotaped a 30-minute in-class lesson and answered a comprehensive narrative portion with thought-provoking questions.
Her answers were initially more comprehensive then needed.
Lane admitted she got confused by the limit of 25,000 characters versus words and after writing 20-pages worth of answers, only then did she email the Department of Education asking for clarification.
“It took me forever because that’s a lot of words,” she said laughing. “Then it took me just as long to trim it down.”
Of course, Lane does not have a Twitter account and joked she is not accustomed to being assigned character limits.
When she finally hit send, she thought, “Thank goodness.”
She also had to tape her in-class lesson twice.
She enlisted the help of a senior who graduated last May to shoot the footage. He set up multiple cameras and edited a fully produced 30-minute lecture, which she had to cut down from a typical 47-minute class period.
It was not until after shooting it that she discovered it needed to be an uninterrupted, unedited clip.
“It was a lot of stuff,” said Lane, who also missed three months of school because of a hospital stay and recovery, “so when I got the email in July from the Tennessee Department of Education, I was like, no, let me read this again.
“It’s been a crazy year in lots of bad ways and lots of good ways.”
National award-winners receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States, a $10,000 stipend from the foundation and a trip to Washington, D.C., that includes an awards ceremony, celebratory events, professional learning activities and discussions with education policymakers.
Lane will be honored later this month, in Nashville, at the Tennessee Department of Education’s annual Teacher of the Year banquet.
Coincidentally, this past spring, Lane was selected as Teacher of the Year at Central for the 2017-18 school year and the top districtwide middle school teacher.
PHOTO & STORY BY KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT