Chris Janzen did not see this coming.
During a May 25 assembly at where the biggest news seemed to be that the sixth graders wouldn't be sitting on the floor at assemblies next school year (they'd be sitting in the bleachers marked for seventh graders), the English and humanities teacher stood off to the side, calmly smiling at his students.
Then Highland Park Community Foundation Committee Chair Susan Benjamin took the microphone to discuss the Golden Apple Award.
"My heart started beating in my chest," Janzen said later. "That was really my first inkling of any of this."
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Benjamin announced that Janzen was this year's Golden Apple recipient for outstanding teaching.
"I'm completely speechless," Janzen said shortly after accepting his award.
The Highland Park Community Foundation Golden Apple Award recognizes stellar teaching in the city's school systems. The foundation began giving the award out in 2010. It comes with a cash stipend and an iPad, in addition to the recognition of exceptional teaching.
"He tirelessly and creatively finds new and innovative ways to engage students as partners in their learning," Northwood co-principal Monica Schroeder said about Janzen, who's taught at the school for more than 10 years.
Benjamin explained to Patch the rigorous process in which a Golden Apple winner is determined. Thirty teachers are nominated. Then, there are lengthy applications and multiple letters of recommendation. Three finalists are observed for an entire day. Afterwards, a committee of former exemplary educators convenes to discuss who should receive the award.
Benjamin said that Janzen stood out because his calm demeanor captivates his students.
"They call him the Kid Whisperer," Benjamin said. "He's just determined that each of those kids is going to succeed. He just holds the students attention in his quiet way."
Benjamin said she wished the foundation could award all three finalists. The other two were Jan Foughner, a humanities teacher at Elm Place, and Elizabeth Hodge, a special education teacher also at Elm Place.
"You've got three outstanding teachers," Benjamin said. "I'm glad they're in the profession."