Chad Cryer, a history teacher at Bryan High School, and John Williams, a government teacher at Fort Bend Christian Academy in Sugar Land, have been selected to receive the Texas A&M University Inspiration Award for Exceptional Education.
Both teachers were nominated for the award by a former student who will graduate during the 9 a.m. Friday (May 10) commencement ceremonies in Texas A&M’s Reed Arena, where approximately 12,000 will be in attendance, including the Aggie graduates, family members and friends.
Teachers selected to receive this unusual award — believed to be the first of its type sponsored by any university in Texas — are nominated by one of their former students who is set to graduate from Texas A&M at the ceremony at which the award will be presented.
The recipient of the award is recognized during the ceremony and he or she is presented a check for $2,000. The teacher’s high school receives $1,000.
As a university known for valuing excellence, leadership and service, Texas A&M sponsors the award as a way of recognizing those values in the teachers who have inspired and challenged their students to excel, officials note.
Cryer was nominated by Lauren Hamburg, who will receive her degree in psychology Friday. Hamburg says she came to Cryer’s history class expecting it to be like every other class where she memorized dates and events and wondered if they had any significance for today’s current events.
“My expectations were turned upside down. He introduced topics with open- ended questions that made you think. As a class we would discuss the topic and come up with a list of pros and cons and the documents we read to support our ideas.”
She adds that not only did Cryer teach her to think more abstractly, but he also helped her to realize there are multiple aspects to each topic. “This was important for me to realize because I was used to thinking of everything as black or white or right or wrong and most subjects are not either/or debates, they have many aspects to consider.”
“He made me realize you are never done learning, it is important to communicate your thoughts and ideas clearly and to come up with creative ways to solve problems,” she explained.
Williams, who taught Katherine Long at the academy in Sugar Land, was nominated for the award by his former student who is graduating from the College of Liberal Arts with a degree in history.
Long says she was completely focused on becoming a nurse because of the salary and career opportunities she would receive. Then in her senior year when she took Williams’ government course, she could think of nothing else she would rather do than teach.
“Mr. William’s class was notorious for having a high level of difficulty, so I was apprehensive and determined to do well,” she says. “It quickly became clear why he was so admired by his students. Because of his passionate content knowledge, excellent professionalism and commitment to his students, I decided I wanted to be a teacher just like him. He allowed students to express their opinions, but made them back it up with primary sources. It was dynamic and exciting,” Long explains. “He was constantly posting thought-provoking articles, recording podcasts for us to study with and holding morning review sessions.”
Williams attended his students’ extracurricular events and Long says everyone knew how much he cared about his students.
Saying she wants to be the kind of teacher he is and provide support for her students, Long says she wants to challenge students not only academically but also challenge their character as well.
“There are dozens of Fort Bend Christian Academy graduates at Texas A&M who would stand with me and agree that John Williams challenged and prepared us to excel at the collegiate level and beyond.”
As Inspiration Award recipients, Cryer and Williams will be given the opportunity to present their former students with their Texas A&M diplomas – an honor normally retained by the university president. In the past, graduating students who receive their diplomas from their award-winning teachers say that makes a special day even better, and the teachers say the best part of the award is getting to present a college diploma to one of their most memorable students.