2002 Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award
Presented to Dick Schanou
Each year since 2000, the Nebraska Writing Project has given this award to a teacher whose career demonstrates our core values: that good teaching can draw better writing from students, that the best teachers of writing are writers themselves, and that teachers are the best teachers of other teachers. Carol MacDaniels, in whose memory this award was endowed, exemplified these values in her own life. The recipient for 2002 is Dick Schanou.
Letter from the director:
I am pleased to present the 2002 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Dick Schanou.
Dick Schanou clearly exemplifies the excellence in teaching this award is intended to honor. In his thirty-two years as an English teacher at Aurora High School, Dick has inspired generations of students to write themselves, has served as a teacher leader in his school and community, and has centered his work in his own writing, especially of poetry. These are exactly the activities valued by the Nebraska Writing Project.
Since 1977, the Nebraska Writing Project has offered support to the state's writing teachers through summer institutes, inservices, and continuity programs. We are one of the oldest Writing Project sites in the nation. Our first summer institute opened in 1978, bringing together 24 teachers from across the state to write and share teaching ideas. Over the years, the Nebraska Writing Project has grown. Last year, for instance, we offered 96 separate programs totaling over 10,000 contact hours with educators and an additional 20,000 contact hours with students and community members. We initiated this Teacher of the Year Award in 2000 to begin to recognize some of the excellent teachers who have helped the Nebraska Writing Project thrive. The Award is named for Carol MacDaniels, a teacher who served the Writing Project for two decades as Associate Coordinator, Rural Coordinator, and Institute Facilitator. Carol's work exemplified the core features of Writing Project teachers: teachers who are immersed in their own writing, committed to fostering writing among their students and wider communities, and active as advocates for teachers. Upon Carol's death from cancer in 2001, an endowment was established by the National and Nebraska Writing Projects to help fund this award.
Dick Schanou is a worthy recipient of this award, since his lifetime of teaching also exemplifies the traits we value. Many of the nomination letters for Dick, for instance, praised his influence on student writers. One nominator writes: "I had the privilege of having Mr. Schanou for my English teacher during my junior and senior years at Aurora High School. He is the teacher that impacted me the most during my high school career. I am currently a high school English teacher, due in part to his influence." Another nominating letter, from Dick's principal at Aurora for 25 years, places these student words in context: "For many years Aurora guidance personnel have surveyed college freshmen … [who] were asked to respond to the question, ‘Which course did you take at Aurora High School that has been the most helpful in your post-secondary studies?' Almost without exception, the students identified Mr. Schanou's Prep English class. When asked to comment, the students cited the value of having learned critical thinking skills, organizational techniques, and writing skills in order to be successful in courses in all academic fields, not just English." Dick's sponsorship of student writing has also taken concrete form in The M Street Odyssey, a collection of prose and poetry written in his high school English classes. This collection has been published in alternating years since 1984, and has been judged as "excellent" by the National Council of the Teachers of English every time it has been entered as a high school literary publication. Clearly, Dick Schanou has inspired many students to greater achievement in writing.
Dick Schanou's nominators also praise his active leadership on behalf of teachers in the Aurora community. A teacher in his building writes of his "open door policy," how Dick "is quick to give advice or encouragement whenever I have had a question about writing or curriculum." A teacher from his district points to Dick's service on the Aurora Educational Association and as co-chair of their Effective School Process. A third nominator notes Dick's service as editor of The Nebraska English Counselor during the late 1980s, and his three-time participation in Nebraska Writing Project Summer Institutes during that same time period. He has clearly been an ongoing mentor to other teachers, and a teacher-leader and advocate in policy decisions. "When Dick is involved," one of his nominators writes, "he is usually in a leadership position."
If these achievements weren't already enough, Dick Schanou has also maintained a vital writing life. Every year, he writes alongside his students in the classroom. He has published poetry in Plain Songs and The Prairie Plains Journal, as well as the anthology Alive and Writing in Nebraska. One of his nominators describes his poetry this way: "In much of his writing Dick captures the essence of place. Dick's vivid imagery and rhythms capture his surroundings in a powerful way. It's always a privilege to read his work and even more of a joy to hear him perform his work." Because Dick is a writer himself, he understands the depths of the writing process and can guide other writers through it.
I would like to read an excerpt from one of Dick Schanou's poems, a poem I believe captures the force and insight of Dick's teaching. I think these words show why Dick can, as one nominator puts it, "bring out the poet that lies hidden in the student in the back row." I hear in them Dick's commitment to writing, to teaching by example, and to leading all of us who work with writing into greater awareness of the significance of such work. The poem is too long to read in its entirety, but I think this excerpt captures the gist of his wisdom.
Here's what Dick Schanou writes:
My Writing Classes in Mid-Winter
They tell me these things,
These moments of sorrow,
Of joy, pain and love.
Of the death of someone
Cut down at forty
In some sad shower stall
In a motel
In some foreign town
With some strange name,
And of the son
Who fears the empty house.
They don't tell others. . . .
"I know what you feel," I want to say,
The hollows in my life echo
And leaden footsteps reverberate
Off the sterile emptiness,
The antiseptic glare
Of hospital corridors. . . .
Be strong, I want to say.
You are stronger than they. . .
Never fear to say what you think
If you think.
Or to feel what you feel
If you feel.
The weak can be protected
The strong can care
And even brutes
Have a chance.