While some may think that anyone who teaches 7th and 8th graders should receive an award for bravery, Chris Payne disagrees.  He says, “I wouldn’t want to teach any other age.” 

His students, their parents, and the Archdiocese of Chicago all agree that he is doing a great job, and showed their appreciation by honoring Payne with the “Heart of the School” award. 

A resident of Forest Park since 1991, Payne grew up in Wheaton and attended high school in Oak Park.  He did his university work at Western, earning a BA in History, to which he added a teaching certificate.  One could say that teaching was in his blood.  One grandmother, and all her sisters, were teachers, and books were plentiful and discussed as he grew up.  The other side of the family included an Ohio politician, and Payne credits that grandfather with his love of history. 

Payne began his teaching career at Our Lady of Charity in Cicero, and from the start has taught the junior high grades.  After 10 years in Cicero, he transferred to St. Joseph in Wilmette, again teaching the junior high grades, and continuing to teach history and literature.   He is glad that  there is “an emphasis on learning and spirituality” in the Catholic schools. 

This is a teacher who is glad he is teaching.  Payne says, “I’m lucky. Some people just do a job.”

The Heart of the School award is not the first notice taken of this fine teacher.  Payne was nominated for this award two other times, for Who’s Who in Education, and for the “Disney Award”. 

The “Heart of the School” award is a multi-step process.  Teachers are nominated by parents.  After being nominated, each teacher, to remain in the process, writes a number of essays explaining both personal and teaching philosophy.  These essays and an application are submitted to the Archdiocese and reviewed by a panel which includes the awarded teachers of the previous year.  This year, six hundred teachers were nominated.  Only fourteen chosen, two teachers in each of 7 different categories.   Payne quipped that he realized only after the award ceremony, that he would be on the awards committee next year.

Payne’s award was in the area of Innovation and Creativity, and very appropriate.  He keeps a page on the school website, which, in addition to the homework assignments and long range project reminders, includes a “this day in history” section. (And students who read about the history of the day, and can answer a question about it get extra credit!)

When his 7th graders studied the Middle Ages, part of the unit was making a family crest, and explaining the symbols and colors chosen to the rest of the class. 

He developed a computer model of the stock market and used it to teach about the 1929 crash.  Each student was given $1000 to invest (on the hard drive only) and
challenged to avoid going broke when the
market failed.

He links history and literature.  When his history class covered WWI, “All Quiet on the Western Front” was read in literature.   Reading WWI poetry was the prelude to the students producing works of visual art and poetry.  Payne says “I see students with other talents” thus he works to incorporate those talents into the classroom.

It is not surprising that his school days run long.   He arrives at 6.30  (classes start at 8.30) and he stays till “whenever.”

While teaching the facts of history and literature, Payne has his eyes firmly on his students’ future  challenges.  “One of my goals is to get them ready for the next step.” he says.  To prepare them for High School, he teaches them how to take notes and how to study for tests, even running test practice sessions before school.  Talented as a tutor, he has donated tutoring time as an auction item in a school fundraiser.

After teaching for 14 years, in Cicero and now in Wilmette, Payne has launched many students.  He says, “One of my favorite things is hearing from former students.”  One is teaching math at OPRF; another teaches history.  Some contact him when they finish college.  Others touch base with him when, as Payne relates, “something they learn reminds them of me.”

Ron Berger, principal at St. Joseph,  speaks very highly of Payne. “Chris inspires and challenges students to do their best. He is readily accessible to students if they need extra help. … He essentially makes social studies and literature come alive in his classroom,” says Berger.

The award is also special for St. Joseph.  Closed for a number of years, the school reopened with a preschool program 9 years ago, adding teachers and classes as the grades advanced.  The graduating class of 2003 was the first in 17 years.  

Berger continues, “This is the first time that a teacher at St. Joseph School has received this award. … It’s really the top prize for a Catholic school teacher.”

It’s clear Payne is in the right place, and it’s clear that he deserved this “Heart of the School” award.  Payne smiles as he says,  “I’m truly happy.  It sounds corny, but I love what I’m doing.  In front of a class, I’m as happy as I can be.”