When Jacob Mendelssohn received a package in the mail telling him that he was receiving an award from Yale for his “outstanding, even inspiring” teaching, the Hartford public-school teacher said he did not know what to make of it.
“Frankly, I had no idea what it was,” said Mendelssohn, who teaches physics at Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science.
Mendelssohn was one of 25 high school teachers chosen this month as recipients of the first annual Yale Teaching Award. The new award program, set up by the Admissions Office, recognizes high school teachers who were nominated by incoming Yale freshmen for their roles in helping to mold Yalies who were previously under their academic guidance. Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the program is meant as a way to thank high school teachers for their exceptional teaching abilities.
“We hope that they understand we appreciate their dedication to educating Yale students,” Quinlan said. “The primary goal is to recognize teachers who deserve to be recognized.”
The 25 teachers who received the award — which included a letter of congratulation and an engraved desk set — were chosen from a pool of about 75 applicants from across the country and several foreign countries, Quinlan said. Those teachers’ names were submitted over the summer by incoming freshmen, who filled out a short form of nomination sent to them via e-mail. The applications were reviewed by a small selection committee, which chose the winners based on their level of dedication and commitment to students.
Quinlan said the existence of similar programs at other colleges was one reason Yale decided to try it out this year. At Williams, for instance, the college chooses four teachers nominated by students and flies them in for commencement, Quinlan said.
“Obviously this is on an entirely different scale than that,” Quinlan said. “But we like this program. We want this to be a tradition.”
Quinlan said he was happy with the results of the program’s first year.
“We’ve gotten some really nice letters back from students, teachers and principals themselves,” Quinlan said. “More applicants is always better, but we had a really good turnout for the first year.”
Students who sent in nomination forms said they felt that the award would be a nice way to thank teachers who had done a lot for them.
“I did it because he was my teacher since freshman year,” said Kledia Myrtolli ’09, who nominated Mendelssohn. “He was involved in my research projects. He’s a really good teacher, but he’s also a really nice person. If you need help he’ll always be there for you.”
Andrew Hoffman ’09, who nominated his physics teacher David Derbes from the University of Chicago Laboratory School in Chicago, said he was glad Derbes had won.
“I’m really delighted he received the award,” Hoffman said. “I know he deserved it. He’s known at our school as one of the best teachers and a really nice guy.”
Other schools that have heard about Yale’s program have taken an interest in it. Quinlan said he received an e-mail last week from Nicole Harrell, from the Registration and Records Department at North Carolina State University, asking for information about the program.
Harrell said award recipient Daniel Teague, who has close ties to NC State, informed the university administrators about Yale’s program. The administrators were receptive to the idea and asked Harrell to look into the possibility of creating a similar program at NC State.
“He [Teague] was so pleased to have received this award that his enthusiasm carried over to the Vice Provost of Enrollment Management and Services, Louis Hunt, who charged me with this task,” Harrell wrote in her e-mail to Yale officials.
Quinlan said the Admissions Office plans to continue running the program for the next four or five years, at which time officers will assess its success and decide whether or not to continue it.