By Terry Dean
John Paulett's tiny classroom could barely hold the throng of people May 2 during the announcement of his winning a Golden Apple Award.
Paulett, 62, was one of 10 Chicago-area teachers to win the prestigious award for excellence in teaching. The winners are surprised with a classroom visit. Paulett was teaching his theology class when Fenwick administrators, Golden Apple officials and his family stormed into the classroom.
Award winners receive $3,000 in cash and a tuition-free summer sabbatical at Northwestern University to study in any subject.
Golden Apple Foundation President Dominic Belmonte presented Paulett with the award. Overwhelmed with emotion, Paulett thanked his Fenwick colleagues and his family — wife Sabina and daughter Kelly, who were present. Paulett also thanked his students.
"Most of all I want to thank the 30 of you; every student that I ever had the chance to be with," he said. "My students will tell you that I'm rarely ever at a loss for words, but I'm really overcome."
His students were equally happy for him.
"I definitely think he deserves it," said Nell Gallagher, a 17-year-old junior. "Mr. Paulett's such a good teacher. He doesn't do an ordinary style of teaching. It's so much more open. And he's not judgmental. You can say anything and he will not judge you."
Conor Dunbar, 17, said Paulett is one of his favorite teachers.
"He really makes the class a lot more than just teaching. You can really bring in your own personal opinion. He really lets you explore and create," Dunbar said.
Paulett is the fourth Fenwick teacher to win a Golden Apple. Father Joseph Ekpo won in 2007, while Ramzi Farran received the Golden Apple in 1998 and John Quinn in 1992. All three winners still teach at Fenwick. Paulett acknowledged each one, calling them friends and colleagues.
Teaching runs in Paulett's family. His wife is a professor at Columbia College and his daughter is a high school teacher in Chicago.
Paulett was nominated once before for the Golden Apple, but this time he made it to finalist round. A native of Cleveland, Paulett taught in Chicago for nine years before switching careers. He worked in business for 25 years before returning to teaching in 2005 at Fenwick. He teaches theology, writing, speech and theater.
Paulett, who's been a part-time actor in plays and films since the 1970s, also serves as Fenwick's theater director. Paulett was among 32 Golden Apple finalists this year.
Surprise classroom visits took place last week with all 10 Golden Apple winners, but the schools were notified days prior. Paulett's wife Sabina got a call from Fenwick, but said it was really tough not to break the news herself.
She and her daughter said they're very proud of Paulett.
"He's waited years and years to go back to teaching, and it's been the absolute joy in his life. We're a family of teachers and we really believe in it," Sabina Paulett said.