Prestigious award shocks teacher
Imagine the shock of being named a recipient of a national teaching award, and then having 15 members of your family jump out of a closet.
It surprised Bill Ratliff.
Ratliff, a third grade teacher at Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center, received the American Stars of Teaching Award at an assembly Friday morning.
"I was very, very surprised," Ratliff said. "I had no idea about it and it took me a while after they announced it to decide if it was the real thing. It was completely out of my thinking."
An even bigger surprise came when he went to the podium to accept his award. Ratliff was greeted by members of his family, who jumped out of a closet from behind him.
"I finally got up there and my family was there," Ratliff said. "That was a bigger surprise than the other part. They had known about it for a couple weeks. I was really got when they showed up. They all got in the building, without me knowing it. As soon as it was announced, they all came flying out the door way."
School Board President Alison Bauer was touched by Ratliff's reaction to his family being at the assembly.
"It was so sweet," Bauer said. "He was so surprised. He was very touched. He hugged each of them once and then went back and hugged them again."
After teaching for 42 years, Ratliff was speechless about his award, since he expected it to go to another teacher at BESIC.
"I was thinking oh gosh, why me," Ratliff said. "It kind of floored me, because when he was talking I had other people in mind who he was talking about. Then I heard my name and turned around, because I wasn't even looking at him. It really caught me off guard."
Tony Brown, a Baker University professor and parent of a former student under Ratliff, was thrilled to hear his daughter's former teacher won the award.
"I didn't know this award existed, but how cool," Brown said. "There is nobody more deserving than Bill Ratliff. I was so happy he won that and so proud of not only him, but of Baldwin City. I think it's a great testament to the kinds of work we are doing here."
Brown's sixth grade daughter, Halley Henderson, had Ratliff for a teacher in third grade. Unfortunately, she only had him for one semester, because she was with her father in Harlaxton, England during the fall.
"We came back and she had him for the spring semester," Brown said. "To be quite honest, out of all the experiences she has had in the Baldwin schools, that's the one I regret the most, because I would have loved to have her in Bill Ratliff's class all year.
"Although Harlaxton was a wonderful experience, Bill was such a terrific teacher for her," Brown said. "It was so impressive that she came back after missing the fall semester, and he just integrated her into the class and made her feel like she had been there the entire year. He made her feel special."
Henderson enjoyed her time with Ratliff so much, she would go visit him after school during her final two years at BESIC.
"He is my favorite teacher," Henderson said. "He always explained things well and would challenge us. After school I would go to his classroom when I was at the IC. He deserved his award."
Brown agreed with his daughter, because he would have to wait to pick her up while she talked to her former teacher.
"Even after third grade, she would go back and see him after school," Brown said. "I would go to pick her up and she was one of the last kids out of school. He just has that infectious way of getting kids hooked into school."
Tom Mundinger, BESIC principal, had this to say at the assembly, since he was the one to nominate Ratliff for the award.
"Mr. Ratliff is a very modest and humble man," Mundinger said. "He never promotes himself because he doesn't have to. So Bill, enjoy this recognition. You deserve it."
Then Ratliff participated in the BESIC 'Walk of Honor' inside the gym. He was greeted by many of the students, some of which had been his students.
"A lot of them came by to give me a high five or knuckles," Ratliff said. "That was pretty neat. That is why I am here, because of the kids."
Ratliff then took the rest of the day off to be with his family, who had traveled from as far as Arizona and Atlanta.
"My family was here, so Mr. Mundinger let me have the rest of the day off," Ratliff said. "My wife is pretty special. She was able to get three kids here. I was expecting one of them later in the day for other reasons but he had gotten here the night before.
"It made the day more special, because I had that to share with them, teachers and the students as well," Ratliff said. "I wouldn't have gotten to that point if it weren't for all of them."
Ratliff began teaching in 1965 after he graduated from Emporia State University.
"I had no problem finding a job once I got my degree, because it's hard to find a man teacher in elementary schools," Ratliff said. "It's not unheard of, but it's scarce. The principal then felt very strongly about men in the primary. I always enjoyed being around kids."
He has also been a principal for several years, but has stayed in elementary education his entire career.
He said the award on Friday really helped assure him that what he has been doing for more than 40 years is the right thing.
"It's been a good ride. This kind of just makes me feel like what I am doing is good. There are a lot of other teachers in the building that deserve it too. This award is for the building too."