Shenendehowa teacher not letting national contest win go to his head
Special education instructor wins top prize on live television show
CLIFTON PARK Bryan Sawyer didn’t get to watch the TV show in which he won a national teaching award.
That’s because he had a starring role in it, and it was being broadcast live.
Sawyer, 31, was standing in front of Karigon Elementary School on Tuesday morning when the local CBS affiliate brought a 2013 Ford Fusion prototype like the car he will get later this year.
When he appeared on “Live with Kelly” last week as a semifinalist, Sawyer won a seven-day vacation to the British Virgin Islands and 40 notebook computers for his school.
It’s been a notable few days for the young teacher, traveling to New York City on Thursday to appear on the show with Kelly Ripa, appearing on national television and becoming a celebrity at the school where he teaches special education to second- and third-graders.
“It definitely hasn’t hit me yet, the magnitude of it all,” Sawyer said Tuesday afternoon, after working the rest of the school day following the big announcement that morning.
In the past few weeks, Sawyer has been showered with more praise, prizes and public recognition than most teachers get in an entire career.
Yet he seems to have kept his head out of the clouds.
He hasn’t spent time daydreaming about when he and his wife, Julie, will take the vacation — he teaches summer school at Shenendehowa and said he won’t skip that — or whether he’ll drive the Fusion and dump his 2005 Honda Accord.
If he did get an inflated ego, his 2- and 3-year-old daughters would erode it quickly, as he saw Monday night when he was going to be on the local TV news.
Julie asked the girls if they wanted to watch their dad on TV.
“Nope,” Sawyer said, laughing. “They clearly don’t get it. They see me every day.”
Karin Miller of Clifton Park, whose twin sons have autism, nominated Sawyer for the honor, saying he’s one of the best teachers she’s met after having six children in the Shenendehowa schools.
Sawyer has worked at Karigon for five years.
One of Miller’s sons, Jacob, is currently in Sawyer’s class and has made great strides. He started school as a child who couldn’t talk and needed constant one-on-one attention to avoid hurting himself or others.
Miller saw other teachers give up on her son, she said last week. But Sawyer took a chance on a difficult case, accepting Jacob into his class.
Recently Jacob has been able to read aloud to his classmates and their parents, Miller said.
Karigon Principal Gregory Wing said Sawyer is patient with students and celebrates their progress and little victories.
“Live with Kelly” picked five finalist teachers and aired their stories last week, one on each day. Then the show opened up voting online for the public, and the winner from the ballots cast was announced Tuesday morning on the show.
But Sawyer didn’t know whether he had won until the show was under way.
Someone from the show asked him to stand in front of the school Tuesday morning, and he did so with a group of about 25 to 30 people, which included his students, their parents, other teachers who work with his students and district administrators.
He “had an inkling” that that meant he won, because it didn’t seem like the show would have all five teachers stand outside at their respective schools if only one was the winner.
Wing had more than an inkling, though the show didn’t tell him explicitly that Sawyer won.
Rather, the school’s contact from the show asked him Tuesday morning to make sure Sawyer’s wife was standing next to him, which made better TV footage when the car rolled up.
In addition to the computers, the school is expected to get $5,000 worth of Dole fruit as a prize.
“We’ll take it,” Wing said with a laugh.
Sawyer said the experience has been exciting and fun but also tiring for his students.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine,” he said.