Hileman named Kansas Teacher of the Year
Keil Hileman expected it to be crazy, but not this wild.
Hileman was announced Kansas Teacher of the Year in Wichita Saturday evening, and ever since Hileman has dealt with innumerable congratulatory phone calls and e-mails while trying to grasp the idea that he has won.
"My wife hugged me so tight I couldn't stand up," Hileman said of the moment they announced his name. "I think they called my name twice."
Tompkins made the announcement before the largest state awards banquet ever, with more than 450 education officials, corporate leaders, and state policy makers -- and nearly 100 students, parents, teachers, and administrators from the De Soto school district.
"A lot of these kids spent their babysitting money, their lawn-mowing money, some of their Christmas money, their birthday money -- they came and paid $25 for dinner," Hileman said. "In the end, we had six minivans that the mom or dad or both decided to drive and said 'I can take seven kids.'"
Fittingly, Hileman used his acceptance speech to thank all of those who had helped him along the way. He also recognized the close connection he has been able to have with his students and the scene that inspired his youngest daughter, Susanna's, nickname from a scene in the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."
In the scene, Jimmy Stewart sees his daughter Zuzu's flower petals, and they are the confirmation that he is alive and will make the right decisions from now on, which Hileman calls a Zuzu moment. Hileman said the announcement, along with getting married, having children, and starting his new museum class, was one of those moments.
"I said that being honored and humbled as the new Kansas Teacher of the Year is the Zuzusiest Zuzu moment of my Zuzu life," Hileman said.
The De Soto school district has produced one of the eight state finalists for the last five years. The Teacher of the Year program is sponsored nationally by the Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic Inc. A 53-member state selection panel composed of business representatives, legislators, education officials, parents and students chose Hileman.
Hileman said there were some early indications that he had made an impression on the judges. Five called to have him talk to their school districts, and one sent him a Roman coin worth about $200 for the museum.
"You have to understand, I won either way -- whatever that announcement was," Hileman said. The teacher felt that if he won, it was a huge honor, and he had made the commitment to take advantage of every opportunity the honor would allow. If he didn't win, he got more time with his new museum connections classes and his 2-year-old and 6-month-old daughter.
Now that he is teacher of the year, Hileman will spend 75 to 95 days over the next year traveling and speaking, visiting NASA space camp, and in April, meet ing President George W. Bush He is now also in consideration for National Teacher of the Year.
"When I found out I meet the president, that just blew me away," Hileman said.
Hileman said he thought any of the other eight state finalists would have made a great teacher of the year, and he would do his best to represent them and Kansas. Although he is honored and humbled by the award, he does not exactly agree with the title Kansas Teacher of the Year for 2004.
"In reality, I am not the best teacher in Kansas," Hileman said. "There are so many teachers out there who are doing amazing, wonderful things, who are either too busy to fill out the paperwork; their district doesn't even participate, so they don't fill out the paperwork; or if they do fill out the paperwork, they're not in a point in their life where they're ready to leave their classrooms."
Hileman said he was at a point where he would feel delinquent in his role as a teacher if he didn't share his experiences. He feels an obligation to share and to travel and learn as much as he can. So instead, he thinks he should be called representative for students, teachers, and schools in Kansas for 2004.
In his true investigative fashion, Hileman has found an interesting convergence between his nomination and his school. Thomas Jefferson is on the ring that state winners are given, because of his early advocation of public education. Hileman makes the connection between Jefferson's home Monticello, and the school's name, Monticello Trails.
"He died terrified that our country would collapse in the future if our public education system was not