Prospect High School teacher Joyce Kim was honored as the 2017 Claes Nobel Top Educator of the Year recently by the National Society of High School Scholars.
Kim, an honors English teacher at the Mount Prospect high school, was awarded $5,000 to further her professional and educational goals during an awards ceremony in Atlanta in December.
“I am very honored by [the award] — I felt so humbled by it,” said Kim, 32. “I’m grateful to be doing something that I love, and I think [the award is] a confirmation that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
NSHSS, a society that recognizes and supports high school students for academic achievements and community service, annually honors 10 educators, including one top educator, who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to preparing students for success. The awards are named for society co-founder and Chairman Claes Nobel, senior member of the family that established the Nobel Prizes.
Kim, who has a master’s degree in literature from Northwestern University, has been teaching honors world literature and written and oral composition at Prospect since July 2016. Before that, she taught English at Elk Grove High School, also in High School District 214, for five years after teaching at two other area schools since earning her bachelor’s degree in 2006.
Kim’s path to becoming an honors English teacher wasn’t an obvious one. She grew up as an introvert in a Korean-speaking household with a family who expected her to become a doctor. That changed when her father died while she was in high school. “All of my teachers offered me their condolences, except for one: my English teacher. She simply said, ‘Write about it,’ ” Kim said. “It was through this assignment that my passion for English was born. … At that moment, I was freed to think, to question.”
As a teacher, Kim passes that life view along, encouraging student exploration, discovery and personal growth. “I find it crucial to build strong relationships with my students so that they first and foremost feel safe and cared for,” she said. “They become educated individuals in all aspects of life through the vehicle of our course content.”
Since being named Top Educator of the Year, Kim has been asked about her teaching philosophy and strategies. She says they’re straightforward: “I just love my students. … My challenging them, whether it be words of encouragement or even scolding at them, I think they get that it’s from a place where I want them to be the best person that they can be. So even when I’m pushing them, they’re like, ‘Yeah, but you love us.’ It’s worth it at the end.”
In nominating Kim, student Lindsey Craig wrote: “[She] works hard every day to help all of the students in her classes equally no matter their level of dedication. … The amount of interest she puts in to make truly interesting lessons to involve all the students is much more than any other teacher I have ever had.”
Prospect’s Associate Principal Scott McDermott agreed with this assessment: “Joyce’s numerous experiences in education have allowed her to develop a communication style that enables her to work with all groups and levels of people,” he wrote in his nomination. “By utilizing her outstanding writing skills, her outgoing personality and her passion for creating learning environments that allow students to engage in civil discourse, discovery and personal growth, Joyce fosters an atmosphere that facilitates maximum development.”