Teaching Profession

Chance the Rapper’s New Awards Show Honors Teachers During School Shutdowns

By Sarah Schwartz — May 07, 2020 4 min read
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Chance the Rapper is marking Teacher Appreciation Week by hosting a virtual awards show to honor the “strongest, coolest, most inspirational” people he knows: the nation’s teachers.

From his home in Chicago, the Grammy award-winning musician will host his first “Twilight Awards,” in three Instagram Live sessions May 6-8. The new awards were designed to celebrate 10 teachers chosen for their “dedication, originality and creativity in helping their students thrive.”

The recognition comes with a $30,000 prize for each teacher winner. The teachers can use half of the money however they wish. The other half is for their schools. The cash prize is provided by Box Tops for Education, the school donation program run by the food company General Mills.

“Teachers are really the only true celebrities, the only people who will stick with us for the rest of our lives,” the rapper said to his Instagram Live audience on Wednesday night, the first of three broadcasts. “They deserve their own Grammys, their own Oscars. They deserve a night where we all come together and give them their flowers.”

“I want you to give a big round of applause wherever you guys are, whether you’re in your living room, or—that’s probably the only place you should be during a pandemic,” he joked.

On the first Instagram Live ceremony, the musician honored four Chicago teachers: Mahmoud Aliamer, a 4th grade teacher at Sayre Language Academy; Lesa Jackson, a 1st grade teacher at Beasley Academic Center; Demetrius Heard, a music teacher at Fuller School of Excellence; and Shari Masters, a teacher at William P. Gray Elementary.

Tonight and tomorrow night’s ceremonies will feature teacher winners from across the country, outside of Chicago.

Chance, whose given name is Chancelor Bennett, first developed the idea for the awards show in 2017, after working with educators in the Chicago Public Schools. That year he donated $1 million to the school system, and started a grant fund to establish arts and enrichment programming in Chicago classrooms through his nonprofit, SocialWorks.

“In that time, I got to work hand in hand personally with, in my opinion, some of the greatest teachers and principals in the country here in our Chicago public schools,” Chance said, on Wednesday during the awards show.

He spoke with each of the four teachers on Instagram Live, asking about how they were keeping in touch with students and teaching through the school shutdowns. Illinois public schools are closed through the end of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Masters, an elementary school teacher, said she was calling her students every day to check in. Jackson, a first grade teacher at a different school, is organizing remote professional development and took on an additional class for virtual learning, after the teacher got sick.

“I would not have said no,” Jackson said. “I knew that they had already been out of school for some time, and I knew that they needed to be learning, just like my students in my class.”

Read more Teacher Appreciation Week posts:

See How 3 Educators Are Helping Students During COVID-19

Stories of Dedication and Creativity

Heard, the music teacher, works with his students to write and record original songs during the school year. He’s posted videos of himself on his YouTube channel making music with his family during the shutdowns, and has encouraged his students to keep singing and playing, too. Chance said that hearing about Heard’s work was especially important to him.

“We need, need, need, more black males in the position of teachers at schools, especially at public schools,” Chance said. “Outside of my home space, there weren’t too many strong black male figures, and I very, very well remember the three that I had through the entirety of my academic career, and it makes a world of difference.”

The teachers all talked about missing their students, and looking forward to being back in the classroom.

“I’m not blood related to any of them, but in a sense, it’s kind of like we’re a family,” said Aliamer. “I think I can speak for a lot of teachers when I say teachers are missing their school family, and they’re missing working with one another, too.”

Chance isn’t the only celebrity recognizing teachers this week—other stars have also sent their virtual appreciation from lockdown.

Actors Matthew McConaughey and Eva Longoria thanked teachers during a virtual “Toast to Texas Teachers” on Tuesday, hosted by the #TeachersCan initiative.

And Jimmy Fallon, the host of the tonight show, started his at-home episode on Tuesday with an original song he wrote for Teacher Appreciation Week.

“Teachers should make a billion dollars, and get more vacation time,” the lyrics go. “They spend their days wranglin’ all our crazy kids. When they go out, they should get free bottomless wine.”

Image: Chance the Rapper speaks with Demetrius Heard, a music teacher at Fuller School of Excellence in Chicago, during Wednesday’s Instagram Live cast of the Twilight Awards.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.