Teaching is often a thankless profession and Matt Phillips, West Hall High School social studies teacher, knows that.
When he received an email from Yale University about receiving the 2019 Yale Educator Award, Phillips said he felt genuinely excited and honored.
He was one of 55 teachers and 18 counselors selected as recipients, who were among 311 nominees from 40 U.S. states and 23 countries.
Phillips’ former student, Vanessa Nunez, who now attends Yale, nominated him for the award. The students entering the Yale class of 2023 were asked to nominate an outstanding educator who impacted their lives, and Phillips was Nunez’s pick.
“Occasionally, all the work and toil is validated by a simple gesture of gratitude or kind words from an administrator, parent or student,” Phillips said. “Every teacher has a file where they keep such things. Vanessa’s letter is now in my file.”
Phillips, who is a West Hall High alumnus, became a member of the faculty in 2010. He serves as the chair of the school’s social studies department and was previously awarded as the Hall County School District Teacher of the Year.
Ley Hathcock, West Hall High’s principal, said Phillips “truly embodies what it means to be a Spartan,” and is proud to call him a colleague.
For the second year in a row, a West Hall High teacher has been selected as a recipient of the Yale Educator Award. Last year Adam Johnson, an English teacher, received the award after being nominated by his student, Katie Burchfield.
“I suspect it is rare to have two back-to-back recipients from the same high school,” Hathcock said. “Then again, West Hall High School is a rare place, indeed. How very fortunate we are to have such excellence in our classrooms daily.”
Johnson, who works closely with Philips, describes him as one of the best teachers he has worked with in his career.
When challenges arise in Johnson’s classroom, he said Phillips is one of the first people he brainstorms solutions with because he knows his co-worker has the integrity to suggest the right action to take.
Over the past several years, Johnson has had multiple students who also took classes with Phililps.
“Often they take our classes simultaneously, and the overwhelming sense of him that I get from them is that he cares deeply about them as both people and students, and sets high expectations for personal conduct and academic performance,” Johnson said. “I would consider it a blessing if my own daughter were to have just one teacher of Matt’s caliber.”