James Hill, a Spanish teacher at Lincoln Southwest High School, is the recipient of the 2021 Christa McAuliffe Prize for Courage and Excellence in Education.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Education and Human Sciences presents the annual award to a Nebraska teacher who exemplifies the character of McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.
Hill will be recognized July 30 during Administrators’ Days, a conference for Nebraska school administrators.
According to nominators, Hill is known for meeting students where they are in the curriculum and taking their learning further than they thought possible. He constantly tinkers with his craft, trying new strategies to better activate the learning process. When one of his students is struggling in Spanish, he is quick to individualize the learning process to help advance their knowledge.
“Once a student has Mr. Hill, they do not want any other Spanish teacher,” said one nominator. “He makes his students feel better about Spanish and what they can accomplish in Spanish. Personally, I have countless examples of where Jim took one of my students who struggled in Spanish, and with extra time and hard work, got the student to perform at a higher level than the student ever anticipated.”
Beyond the classroom, Hill can often be found supporting his students at sporting events, performances and other school activities. This helps him get to know the students and lets them know that their teacher cares about them as individuals, not just students in a Spanish class.
“Mr. Hill is committed to providing students with a highly engaging instructional experience,” another nominator said. “He goes above and beyond to build positive relationships with each of his students, using what he learns about who they are to tailor his instruction to their individual strengths and interests.”
He also takes an active role in navigating challenges facing students and peers. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hill was one of the first teachers to welcome students back into the building, was vocal about the need for evaluating the progress of all learners, and helped other teachers figure out the best way to achieve their objectives under unique circumstances.
“To be the recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Prize is incredibly humbling,” Hill said. “To me, courage in education means doing what is best for kids and holding yourself and others to high standards. That’s challenging sometimes, especially if you consider what we’ve been faced with over the past year. You could give this award to any teacher for making this year work.”
Hill earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Nebraska and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Doane College.
Mr. Hill is committed to providing students with a highly engaging instructional experience. He goes above and beyond to build positive relationships with each of his students, using what he learns about who they are to tailor his instruction to their individual strengths and interests. Nominator