Ms. Karen Cunningham, instructional supervisor of the Glenbrook North English Department, was one of five teachers who received a Celebrated Teacher Award this year from DePaul University.
Each year, the DePaul College of Education invites juniors and seniors university-wide to nominate a former K-12 instructor whom they feel significantly impacted his or her life.
Cunningham was nominated by Sebastian Garzon, a 2015 Spartan alumnus who was in Cunningham’s honors humanities class. Garzon found that his high school humanities class brought back his passion for creativity and drawing. He is now studying animation in college.
“From day one, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be like any other English class,” Garzon wrote in the nomination letter. “True, there were books to read and discuss, papers to write and rhetorical strategies to learn, but there was more than that.”
Instead of notebooks, Garzon and his peers were given sketchbooks to take notes in – written or visual.
“Note-taking in humanities wasn’t just about receiving information, it was about opening ourselves up to what was already within us, just waiting to be acknowledged,” Garzon wrote.
Cunningham has been teaching at GBN for 29 years. She is a Spartan alumna herself.
The award came as a complete surprise for Cunningham.
“I was shocked,” Cunningham said. “I also thought it was very kind to be nominated by Sebastian who isn’t in the College of Education. He said he has been able to incorporate what we did in humanities into his work with animation. He’s smart and quirky – a very creative thinker. I remember he always loved talking about ideas.”
Garzon wrote that Cunningham’s desire to help students was just as apparent out of class as it was in class.
“I remember there was a fellow classmate struggling with depression,” he wrote. “In one instance in particular, he had tears in his eyes; I didn’t want to eavesdrop the entire conversation, but I do recall Ms. Cunningham listening and nodding with understanding, and the student saying ‘thank you so much.’ I know it takes a special kind of teacher to earn that response from a student.”
Garzon added that his humanities class gave him countless opportunities to reflect.
“I was able to recognize who I was, what I loved, and how I was feeling,” Garzon wrote. “... all under the watchful eyes of a teacher who genuinely cared.”
LINK: View video of Sebastian Garzon