Tim Woodward Honored with 2020 Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education
From the moment Tim Woodward began teaching, school felt natural.
“I was really able to be myself in the classroom,” says Tim, a history and literature teacher at Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep and a member of ACE 18 in Oakland.
The ease and comfort that comes with being oneself is obvious, especially as his fellow teacher at Cristo Rey Dallas and former ACE classmate, Emily Lazor, describes Tim’s students.
“The kids love doing a Tim Woodward impression at school,” says Emily, who also shares an office with Tim. “When they do the impression, they’re so intense, and they’re so clear in what they’re saying.
“He’s always had an intensity that’s always been paired with love.”
Tim’s love for his students and willingness to do whatever he can for them led to ACE to recognize him with the 2020 Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education
Named after Dr. Michael Pressley, ACE’s first academic director, the honor is presented annually to two graduates of the ACE Teaching Fellows program who have distinguished themselves by making significant contributions to the ministry of Catholic education. Kelly Foyle, a member of ACE 15 who now the assistant principal of St. Barnabas Catholic School in Chicago, is this year's other winner of the award.
ACE Advocates Director Kati Macaluso describes Tim "all in" – someone who shows up day in and day out with a thoughtful plan for language arts instruction and the patience of a mentor willing to work through repeated drafts of a college admissions essay with former students.
Tim grew up in Kansas City, the son of Notre Dame graduates who frequently visited campus. He ended up at Notre Dame as an undergrad himself, his choice clinched after feeling the sense of community on campus on a non-football weekend. Tim majored in psychology and American Studies, and he spent time working with ND Vision, volunteer tutoring, and serving as an RA in Zahm Hall.
“Every act I did at Notre Dame pointed to teaching,” Tim says. “Looking at those things, if I’m not meant to teach, something’s wrong.”
Tim joined the 18th cohort of Teaching Fellows as a member of the first community in Oakland. The group still talks frequently, Tim says. “I really enjoyed it. I remember waking up excited to go to work.”
Though choosing a career in education didn’t surprise Tim, how teaching actually worked did.
“Going into ACE, I thought the goal of teaching would be to teach content,” Tim says. That’s how he first approached the classroom at St. Elizabeth School in Oakland, where he taught eighth-grade language arts, social studies, and religion.
But after seeing how his mentor teacher, Joseph Petersen, approached the work, Tim began to think about teaching differently.
“Watching him interact with kids, especially during difficult conversations, I thought about how much of teaching is based on relationships,” Tim says. “That really changed how I go about teaching. Everyone there wanted to be great. It was such a community of learning and people who wanted to help these kids.”
Emily sees it now at Cristo Rey in the way that Tim talks to students between classes, has little conversations, and knows all their names and specific interests.
“He makes them feel delighted in,” she says. “Kids really work hard for him.”
After graduating from ACE, Tim taught at St. Elizabeth for one more year before moving to Dallas to teach at a KIPP school. Within a year, he had been recruited to join the founding faculty at Cristo Rey Dallas to start the school.
Tim knew the importance of building a strong culture from what he witnessed at St. Elizabeth in Oakland and learned at KIPP. “That was more trying than the first year of teaching,” Tim says. “There was so much to do.”
At Cristo Rey Dallas, Tim works with a student body that’s predominately Latino and low-income. Besides teaching, he coaches track and cross country.
“A lot of our students come from schools where they’re not challenged or seen,” Tim says. “Our school does a great job of both. We have a whole community supporting students doing hard things.”
Doing hard things includes acing AP exams. His AP U.S. History class was the first AP class in the school to beat the national average on the exam.
“Tim is an amazing teacher,” Emily says. “It was clear even when he was in ACE.”
She says that many of the students have undocumented parents, are first-generation American students, and regularly face vitriol and invective about immigration. The night before the AP exam for U.S. History, she says they were pounding Capri-Suns as they reviewed for the next morning, all remaining calm because they know they were prepared.
“Nothing is more powerful than seeing 60 first-generation Mexican American kids destroy the U.S. History exam,” she says.
But it goes beyond scores. Tim works with ninth graders the summer before their school year starts, helping them get ready for high school. Part of their preparation includes watching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and then building on the mantra, “Protect the Dream.” The work builds into a day when each student gives a speech about protecting their own dream.
“It’s this really beautiful moment where kids come from more than 60 middle schools and are vulnerable,” Emily says. “And Tim models that vulnerability.”
“He raises the ideal of what kids can achieve if they’re pushed.”
For his part, it’s just another way the classroom has been a second home to Tim.
“I’ve always loved it,” he says. “I’m so lucky.”