KINGSTON – Hey, Leslie Nicholas, you just won a top national teaching award, what are you going to do now?
Literally the day after school gets out, I'm going to Brazil, Nicholas said.
Well, the veteran Wyoming Valley West teacher will be joined with 37 other teachers on that trip, awarded to teachers who were initially in the running for the award Nicholas ultimately won Friday: The National Education Association's Members Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence.
Last summer, the 38 candidates were trimmed to five, each receiving $10,000 courtesy of the Horace Mann Co. and the NEA Foundation. Those five gathered in Washington last Wednesday for a three-day event culminating in Friday's announcement of the winner.
Nicholas is no stranger to prominent awards. He was Pennsylvania Journalism Teacher of the Year in 2002, Pennsylvania teacher of the year in 2004, a Disney Teacher honoree in 2005, University of Pennsylvania Educator of the Year in 2005, Ron Clark Academy Greater American Teacher Award finalist in 2009, and 2009 recipient of the First Freedom Award given nationally for teaching and defending the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Yet he concedes that, after meeting the other finalists, he was quite certain he didn't have a chance this time. The more I got to know them, the more I felt I just was not going to be in the running, Nicholas said.
He was so confident of not winning that when they announced the winner, he thought they were just recapping the five finalists. And after realizing he had won, he was so stunned he lost track of his own reactions.
I remember going up to the stage, and then I couldn't remember how I got there, he said. After his speech I was thinking, what did I just say?
All night long I couldn't catch up with what was happening.
Nicholas has always said the best thing about past awards was that, in most cases, he was nominated by a student. This time, it was fellow teacher and Wyoming Valley West Union President Linda Houck who tossed his name into the hat.
And it may be his last award. Though he wouldn't reveal any ideas about his future in the business, he cited some advice he received.
My brother lives in Arizona and he texted me and said, ‘OK, you can retire, there's nothing left.'