MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — At Dogwood Elementary, a sea of tiny students parted and turned around to look at their teacher, Alexis Guynes, who was sitting on a row of bleachers with tears welling up.
Jane Foley, the senior vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, had just announced Guynes as a 2022 recipient of the Milken Educator award, a prestigious honor in the field of teaching. Foley called the awards, “the Oscars of education.”
While Guynes processed her surprise — she thought she was attending a special ceremony honoring teachers, not her specifically — her fifth-grade students wiggled in excitement. Five students on the gymnasium floor, each holding a placard with a number on it, also wiggled.
Standing in a row, students held placards that spelled out, ”$25,000,” the cash amount as part of the Milken award. Those students also wiggled.
Guynes, Foley later explained, was selected after the Milken Foundation examined a portfolio compiled by the state education department. The portfolio detailed the qualitative ways in which Guynes brings education to life for her students.
Among those ways includes reading a book a day to her class, at the beginning of the day. It’s a time, Guynes said, “for us to come together as a class, and check in.
Her immersive education style was detailed by the Milken Foundation: students don goggles and lab coats for Mad Scientist Day, a teaching section on Jackie Robinson ended with uniformed students taking the field at the school for a baseball game, and March Madness transforms into literary March Madness with a reading tournament where students’ vote on their picks for the best book.
Teaching, Guynes said, was always her goal. When she started college at Mississippi State, she said she “knew immediately what my major would be.”
“This is my passion. This is what I want to do. I love my babies, my children. I love coming to work every day,” Guynes said, adding, “there are some days that are hard. Y’all make it hard sometimes.”
The students giggled in response.
Guynes continued, “but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Her remarks were followed by a video message from Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education Penny Schwinn, who extoled Guynes commitment to the profession.
Guynes is one of 40 teachers who clinched a Milken award this year, and the sole teacher in Tennessee awarded. She is the first teacher in the Germantown Municipal School District to clinch the honor.