In the second of this two-part blog series, Luisa describes how she was nominated for the award and the impact the award has made on her, her students and school and wider community. You can read part one of her blog here.
The openness and kindness promoted in school left a lasting impact on two of my sixth form students who took the time to write to Pearson to thank me. They have both always said “Miss, you deserve an Oscar”, and followed up their beliefs by acting on them.
Out of the blue, I received a special thank you card from Pearson, which was a lovely unexpected surprise. Naturally, I showed the whole school what I had received. I was very grateful. Unbeknown to me, my headteacher was completing a document evidencing why I should be nominated for the next round. Pearson then visited the school to validate and scrutinise why I deserved to be a finalist! The nerves certainly kicked in, but having been in special measures and experienced scrutiny, I was ready to show why we, why I should be in the final.
I was overwhelmed by the response I had when I asked colleagues, parents, ex students and staff to meet the panel, and were all keen to say why I deserved to be teacher of the year! It was humbling and a moment I will cherish. A former student came back to say how I’d helped her gain self-esteem when she lost her hair and helped her achieve an A* in Performing Arts; a parent who said I could solve anything; a student who said I was a big part of his life for the support I gave him. A colleague who said I am an outstanding teacher, “I don’t know how she does it”.
To hear these words said about me, when I believe I’m just doing my job, was incredible. As a teacher, you so easily underestimate the impact you have on people.
In June, we celebrated ‘thank a teacher day’ and I was surprised with a silver award for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School. The assembly raised excitement to see one of our teachers winning and the hope and belief that ‘we can’ was revealed before our eyes. I was then invited to the House of Commons for afternoon tea, and our local MP Chris Bryant kindly took me on a tour. It was a great day and I thoroughly enjoyed the celebrity lifestyle, but it didn’t end there.
I made the final and was invited to Canary Wharf for the winners’ ceremony. My husband, parents, friends, headteacher, governors and colleagues attended the ceremony. I was a bag of nerves throughout.
Diane Parish came to the stage to announce “The winner of the teacher of the year in a secondary school goes to … Luisa Martin-Thomas”. I couldn’t believe it, the roar of the crowd and the hugs from my family made my smile grow, whilst my tears of pride fell when I saw my students talking about me from their heart
"We did it!"
I can safely say half-term was not a restful one! The following day I was asked to appear live on BBC Radio show with Jason Mohammad. Then BBC Wales came to school for another radio interview, and as a Welsh speaker, Radio Cymru also interviewed me. The Sun selected me and our school to appear in their hero campaign and finally, I was invited up to the BBC Breakfast red sofa! I had to pinch myself. Social media had picked up the headline and it went viral - you know you’ve made it when you get trolled on twitter!
I received many congratulations from so many people: former students, parents, CSC and Welsh government. The profile of the school and Rhondda Cynon Taff had risen. Tonypandy Community College was on the map for celebration and no longer a label!
The students had selfies with the award and I ran ‘thank you’ assemblies.
One thing sticks in my mind, a parent saw me in the local community and said “I saw you on the TV, it was fantastic. I was so emotional seeing our Tonypandy on the TV. It’s amazing.” Her words echo how I feel: pride that WE did it. The award I received represents a collective journey and a clear message to our students! A thank you to staff and students for all their support.
I’ve been asked what’s next. What will you do? I’ve replied I’m doing it all and I’m taking all opportunities that come my way. As I always say, reach for the highest cloud, because one day, you will get there and I’m the living proof!