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Arlington High School Teacher Wins National Education Honor — 'The Oscars Of Teaching'

Bill Zeeble
High school English teacher Jennifer Fuller gets a hug from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath as Milken Foundation VP Jane Foley looks on. Foley won the award 23 years ago.

Jennifer Fuller, an Arlington high school English teacher, won a national education honor worth $25,000 Wednesday.

The Milken Educator Award came as a surprise announcement and brought cheers from students and tears to Fuller.

Some call the it "the Oscars of teaching" even though few know about the Milken Award. For 30 years, the California-based foundation has sought out top teachers and administrators.

Milken Vice President Jane Foley won it in 1994 and told Arlington Collegiate High students, teachers and some Texas education officials more about it.

“You can’t apply,” Foley explained. “We don’t accept nominations. You don’t find us; we find you. We’re going all over the country to find the best of best.”

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Some of Fuller's students and Education Commissioner Mike Morath hold up the amount the Milken Educator Award winner will take home.

A group of Texas educators recommended Fuller at Arlington Collegiate High School, and the Milken Foundation agreed.  It was all top secret.  Most in the packed cafeteria Wednesday thought the event was just an assembly. Instead, Foley made a surprise announcement.  

“May I have the envelope?” Foley asked, as if announcing an Oscar-winner. “The Milken Educator Award goes to… Jennifer Fuller!”

Cheers erupted in the cafeteria.

Fuller teaches 11th grade English and college prep classes all on the Tarrant County Southeast College Campus. She was happy and shocked, and had never even heard of the award.

“Thank you very much,” Fuller said through tears. “I have the best job in the world, and I work with the most magnificent children and staff, and I’m so lucky to spend each day with these wonderful folks.”

Fuller’s been teaching for 15 years. She says though her mother was a teacher, she didn’t want to be. But in her last year at TCU, she took her father’s advice and got a teaching certificate — just in case, to be employable. She fell in love with the classroom and hasn’t looked back.

“I love every kid, and I think they know that. When they walk in the room, I work to make their day as good as it can possibly be because I know they come to us from a lot of different places where their days are not great,” Fuller said.

Nearly 90 percent of the kids at Arlington Collegiate High are economically disadvantaged. Fuller’s students say she challenges them all the time, and won’t let them slide. That’s why they love her back. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.