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Seven months pregnant and $25,000 richer

Sixth-grade math teacher Teresa Chan Seidel wins Milken Educator Award


by: CONNECTION PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Teresa Chan Seidel embraces a former student shortly after learning she has won the Milken Educator Award - and $25,000.“We don’t thank our educators enough.”

So said Mike Milken, of the Milken Family Foundation, at an all-school assembly at Robert Gray Middle School last month. But within a few minutes, however, Milken did his part to adequately thank one such educator, presenting sixth-grade math teacher Teresa Chan Seidel with a Milken Educator Award.

An initiative of the eponymous Milken Family Foundation, the Milken Educator Awards program is often referred to as the Oscars of teaching, honoring the very best early- to mid-career education professionals throughout the U.S.

Not that Seidel, the student body or just about anyone else at Robert Gray had any idea she was Oregon’s 2013-14 Milken Educator until the moment her name was called.

When they filed into their school auditorium April 15, Robert Gray faculty and staff and many students seemed to figure out pretty quickly that something big was up. Standing before them was Principal Beth Madison, joined by Portland School Board member Ruth Adkins and co-director Greg Belisle, regional administrator and former Robert Gray Principal Larry Dashiell, First Lady of Oregon Nancy Hales and Oregon Deputy Superintendent for Public Instruction Rob Saxton, who introduced Milken.

“All of our research and all of our experience has taught us that the most important thing is the teacher and the classroom,” Milken said.

Each Milken Award winner also receives a cash award used however he or she sees fit. And the excitement in the room reached a boiling point as one by one, five students and finally Hales were each given one placard to hold up for the audience that collectively spelled out the sum of money to be awarded — $25,000.by: CONNECTION PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Five Robert Gray Middle School students - and Portland First Lady Nancy Hales - show how much sixth-grade math teacher Teresa Chan Seidle was to receive for her excellence in teaching.

Saxton stepped up once more, and following a few moments so charged with anticipation that you could literally feel the auditorium vibrating beneath the tweens’ feet, he announced the winner.

From the deafening cheer that erupted throughout the auditorium the second Saxton uttered the name, ‘Mrs. Teresa Seidel,’ it seemed that to Seidel’s students and colleagues, the Milken Family Foundation had made the right call.

According to the Milken Family Foundation website,

The criteria for the selection of outstanding elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and other education professionals as Milken Educators include all of the following:

  • Exceptional educational talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices and student learning results in the classroom and school;
  • Exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession;
  • Individuals whose contributions to education are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight;
  • Early- to mid-career educators who offer strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership;
  • and

  • Engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.
  • Seidel was chosen, according to the foundation, because of her commitment to improving life for her students in a myriad of ways, including using her own experience as the child of Asian immigrants to develop programs for both students and her fellow teachers “To meet the goals of Robert Gray’s incoming expansion to its student body ... (a) substantial increase to the school’s diversity,” a reference to the new wave of students enrolling at Robert Gray Middle School after moving with their families into the new nearby low-income housing project Stephens Creek Crossing.

    To Seidel, however, the honor came as a surprise. Hearing that a Robert Gray teacher was about to receive a Milken Award, she said, “I thought, it could be any of them — it should be all of them.”

    But when Milken pressed one of Seidel’s students, a girl with a bow in her hair and tears streaming down her face, to tell the audience why she was crying, and the girl replied, “She made me so happy here! I used to hate math. I was so bad at math. ... And now she’s made it fun for me,” there was little doubt that the honor was well deserved.

    And after her name was announced and the seven-months pregnant teacher was able to make her way through the sea of preteen hugs and high-fives that instantly engulfed her, the first thing Seidel did was share her initial plans for the massive windfall:

    “Who wants doughnuts tomorrow on me?!”

    Drew Dakessian can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 108.