2022 Golden Apple Award Winners

Matthew Green

Matt Green

Matt Green of Rockford has been teaching for 18 years, the last 12 at Roosevelt Community Education Center. At Roosevelt, there is an exceptionally high percentage of students who’ve experienced trauma (deaths and incarcerations in family; homelessness; poverty; abuse or neglect). Green used to ask them about their role models or heroes. Expecting to hear about athletes, singers or family, instead he was consistently read “no one,” “I don’t have heroes” or “I don’t look up to anyone.” “Seeing all those different handwritings spelling out the void and the desperation behind them knocked my wind out.” Green says, “Students, particularly the ones in my school, have built up defensive walls miles thick. They have a litany of bad experiences, teachers who they perceived have done them wrong somehow, and adults who have either left or ignored them. I get them at the very end of their learning experience and part of my primary job and function as an educator is to undo the tangled mess of their previous traumas and their previous, often-negative educational experiences.” Teacher Roxann Garner, who also started at Roosevelt 12 years ago, commended Green for inspiring “students to push past their barriers … he does a phenomenal job of working with students across the academic spectrum, from remedial to highly skilled. He can deftly adapt assignments for students who struggle to read, and then turn to help the student in the next seat who might be working at college level.” His students agree. One wrote that he “will make sure there are ways he can help and can adjust assignments to where they can work with how you work. Matt is a teacher I feel genuinely cares about his students and their futures.” Green encourages students to open up and write by journaling, with no grading. Once spelling, grammar or topic requirements are removed and students are given freedom, he says “some of these kids write and write and write, as if they just had the cork pulled on their life story. Some of these students have stories, skills and experiences that are simply amazing and heart wrenching, and they just want someone to tell it to. They just want someone who will take the time to read it. To listen without judgment.” One classroom observer noted how Green roots for students, telling them not to be “afraid to go where your brain takes you” and telling one student he didn’t care what others thought about a particular song or poem; there was no way the student could get it wrong because he just wanted to know that student’s thoughts. Green coordinates projects with other departments, showing students how to build on what they’ve started in other classes through additional research and writing for English credit. Dr. Jennifer Macek, who worked with Green as both a colleague and administrator, shared an example of his commitment. “Even though he’s an English teacher, I’ve seen him give up his lunch periods for weeks at a time to help a student get her P.E. credit when she fell behind and lost the motivation to do it on her own.” She added, “He has dedicated his career to helping those who need it the most … he truly believes that a high-quality education has the power to transform lives.” He certainly transformed the life of another student who nominated him, writing, “Matt is an outstanding teacher … inspired me to be a lifetime learner. He also inspired me to finish school and to go to college.”