Palm Springs High School educator honored as one of five ‘Outstanding Teachers of America’

Erin Graham, an English teacher at Palm Springs High School, was recently selected to receive one of the five 2021 Carlston Family Foundation “Outstanding Teachers of America” awards. 

The awards are given only to California public high school teachers who primarily teach in the most challenging school environments.  A teacher must be nominated by former students who are either currently enrolled in a four-year college or university or who already have earned a college degree.

Graham was nominated by Montag Chambers, a former student and member of the class of 2016. She will be recognized Tuesday during the regular meeting of the Palm Springs Unified School District Board of Education.

“I believe strongly that all students have the capacity to learn,” Graham said during the interview process after being nominated. “My purpose in the classroom is to have my students leave me, regardless of their abilities, with a sense that no matter what they choose to do with their lives, they will know how to communicate well, whether in writing or speaking.

“I absolutely love what I do and cannot imagine ever doing anything else.  Receiving this award was a complete surprise and a tremendous honor.”

In 2020-21, the Foundation received more 100 nominations for the award from students either attending graduated from colleges throughout the United States. The evaluation and selection process is extensive and involves interviews with as many as seven or more former students, the school principal, two teaching colleagues, and the teacher being nominated.  Ten teachers are selected as finalists and each finalist is observed in their classroom by the Foundation’s Executive Director.

“These are the real-life stories of how students have overcome incredible personal and academic obstacles with the guidance and the extraordinary efforts of dedicated teachers who believed in them, inspired and motivated them, and supported them with the academic skills to be successful in higher education,” said Tim Allen, recently retired executive director of the Carlston Family Foundation. “These are the stories I share with the Carlston Board of Directors and what is considered most when selecting the 2021 Honorees.”

Students who nominate their former teachers describe the reasons for their nomination, identify the specific characteristics of their former teachers that influenced their learning, and focus on specific teaching strategies that increased both their interest in the subject and the motivation to rise to the high expectations of their teachers. Each former student shares in detail the life changing impact their former teacher had on his/her life.  Over 80% of the nominating students are first generation college students, many of whom have overcome significant obstacles to become academically and personally successful, and they give credit to their former teacher for their success. 

Four other teachers representing high schools located in Garden Grove, Anaheim, Upper Lake, and Los Angeles will join Ms. Graham and each will receive a $15,000 cash award.  Additionally, each of their high schools will receive a grant in the honored teacher’s name in the amount of $5,000.

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