Two MTSU College of Education alumni were recently recognized individually for their superior teaching with a Milken Education Award — known as the “Oscar” of education — and the $25,000 cash prize that accompanies the honor.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and other officials attended assemblies this month at the award winners’ schools to surprise the two outstanding educators.
“I was honestly shocked!” said Raeven Brooks, second-grade teacher at Black Fox Elementary School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about the win. “I wasn’t expecting them to say my name. I just felt so honored. It was the biggest surprise and blessing.”
Tyler Hallstedt, eighth-grade history teacher at Mt. Juliet Middle School in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, felt a mix of emotions.
“I was excited for the professional opportunities the award could unlock, but I am not a big fan of the spotlight,” he said.
The Milken Family Foundation created the award and prize money 35 years ago to recognize excellence in the world of education by honoring top educators, according to the foundation’s website. The award targets early and midcareer teachers for their already-impressive achievements and the promise of their future accomplishments.
Hallstedt and Brooks’ wins put them in an elite group of 41 winners this year from across the country and part of the over 2,800 total winners in the larger national Milken Educator network.
“The MTSU College of Education considers it a tremendous honor to be associated with Raeven Brooks and Tyler Hallstedt,” said Rick Vanosdall, interim dean of the college. “Clearly their dedication to the art and craft of teaching has led to this highest recognition for excellence. We look forward to the positive impact they will continue to have on so many students, colleagues and community members as the progress through their career as professional educators. Congratulations on this recognition and for the great service they are providing to our community.”
True Blue teachers
Brooks, a Murfreesboro native, started teaching in 2016 at Black Fox Elementary after graduating with an MTSU degree in early childhood education. She will graduate with her administration and supervision master’s degree from the university this spring.
“I have had such a wonderful experience getting to study at the College of Education,” Brooks said. “You feel like part of a community full of like-minded students that care and want to see others succeed. I have made lifelong friends and mentors that still pour into me as an educator. I feel so privileged and blessed to be a product of the COE.”
Brooks recognized Cheryl Hitchcock, director of assessment and accreditation for the college, as her most influential professor.
Hitchcock highlighted the college’s multiple field experience opportunities as key for Brooks’ and other education graduates’ success.
“The College of Education faculty work closely with district partners to provide multiple ‘hands-on’ teaching opportunities in addition to student teaching,” Hitchcock said. “Through these strong partnerships, our students experience different schools, grade levels and mentors. Each semester we see students grow in their confidence and ability to meet the expectations of the modern classroom.”
Hallstedt transferred to MTSU after a move from Michigan and earned his degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on social studies in 2013. Even though he has not been a student himself for almost a decade, he recognized two College of Education professors who still impact him today.
“Professor Cindi Smith-Walters and Dr. Jeremy Winters modeled effective and engaging teaching practices every lesson,” Hallstedt said. “Despite never teaching either of their subjects, I have utilized several of their methods in my own classroom. In addition to their quality instruction, they were both approachable and came off as genuinely interested in the success of their students.”
Jeremy Winters, elementary and special education professor, felt honored that Hallstedt mentioned him and agreed that the college’s focus on engaging students in active and relevant classroom activities positively impacts future teachers.
“Being acknowledged for the hard work of a teacher is important,” Winters said about the Milken Award. “Many times, teachers do not see the fruits of their labor. Awards like this can help make the many hours that others do not see worthwhile.”
To learn more about the opportunities at MTSU’s College of Education, visit the website here https://www.mtsu.edu/education/.