By Nona Tepper
Conventional wisdom says having your own children makes you a better teacher.
But Cheryl Frawley didn't have kids. Growing up, she didn't even have a younger brother or sister. Unlike her other classmates at Augustana University, Frawley didn't always want to be a teacher — she just liked helping people and working with kids. On the last day of her freshman year, Frawley declared herself an education major on a whim, thinking, "I'm just going to try it, and then if I fail, I'll pick something else."
Now, she says, "I could not see myself doing another job. The classroom is my place of happiness. I genuinely love going to work."
Five years since stepping in front of the kindergarten class at Betsy Ross Elementary School, Frawley has done so well that people noticed. She's a finalist for a 2018 Golden Apple Award, an honor given by the nonprofit Golden Apple Foundation to teachers who exhibit outstanding performance and leadership in their community. Of the more than 650 nominees — "the largest ever number of nominations," said Alicia Winckler, the group's president and CEO — Frawley cracked the top 30. In May, the Golden Apple Foundation will announce the 10 winners, who will receive a $5,000 prize, a spring 2019 sabbatical at Northwestern University, and induction into the Golden Apple Foundation, where they will mentor other educators, advocate statewide for education policy and review Golden Apple applications for the coming years.
"I'm nervous and very hopeful; I want it not only for myself but for my school district and community," Frawley said.
Winckler said six Golden Apple winners from previous years have reviewed her application. In the coming weeks, she can expect a surprise visit from these former winners, who will observe her classroom teaching and talk to students and school personnel about her work. If Frawley is chosen for a Golden Apple, the group will again show up unannounced in her classroom to congratulate her on the award.
"Our foundation began with an intention to have an Oscar-like family lift up these amazing teachers who have mastered their craft, and change their lives as a result," Winckler said. "We want them to see their place in society, which should be a very high marking and high-ranking place because they create a better future for young people."
Frawley said she applied for the honor in late 2017, highlighting her experience on District 91's Future Ready Committee, where she helped resolve tech issues; the Balanced Assessment Committee, where she explained to other educators how to cater to all students' needs; and worked with the district's administrative team over the years to develop D91's strategic plans.
She credits the other teachers at Betsy Ross for helping her refine her teaching technique, and Principal William Minamow for placing her in leadership positions.
Frawley said she always tries to use positive reinforcement to motivate her students to study harder.
"I know sometimes people look just at the school's test scores — they're looking at the state tests that are very subjective, and sometimes misleading, because not all students are good test-takers. They don't provide a whole picture of what kids can do, in my opinion," she said. "Our students are well-rounded, have a respect for others and have learned how to cooperate and have interpersonal social and emotional skills."