Steve Labenz was just presented the Ben Emdin Guiding Principles and Action Award


Sofia Hargis-Acevedo

Steve Labenz, who just won the Ben Emdin Guiding Principles and Action Award award.

On May 12, 2022, US History and AP Seminar teacher Steve Labenz was presented the Bed Emdin Guiding Principles and Action Award. This is given to “individuals who have had a long-term commitment to Forest Hills Public Schools, have started a project of long-term benefit, and/or have consistently demonstrated the district’s guiding principles of respect, caring, collaboration, diversity, learning, trust, open communication, and high expectations.” 

How did you feel when you were presented with this award?

“Oh my God, I was bowled over. Mrs. Penninga nominated me for it, and I had no idea that she had even done that, and I had kind of forgotten that they were coming out with this. [Superintendent] Dan Behm came; I mean, it’s not that often he’s going to knock on your door in the middle of your class. So yeah, I was surprised.”

What do you love most about teaching?

“Being able to work with kids every day and being able to teach a subject or subjects I enjoy [is what I love]. The community—I mean, we have a little small town every day. I do the same thing, but every day is a little bit different. You’re dealing with a hundred and something students in your class and over a thousand kids in the building. I just love everything about it. I enjoy teaching.”

Why do you think you were given the award?

“I mean the longevity thing; I’ve been here for a while, and probably because I was doing the Veteran’s [Day] thing is probably one of the projects that caught their eye. I haven’t had the ceremony yet for them to tell me what criteria they used.”

What was the most pivotal moment of your teaching career?

“I guess when I decided that I was going to leave radio and teach because I had to quit my job. My wife was working three jobs at that time to help because you don’t get paid to student teach, and you’ve got to pay for your credits when you’re student teaching, so it’s kind of a double whammy. I decided that I was going to go through with it and do it, which was a while ago.”

What inspired you to start teaching?

“I always thought about teaching. I really enjoyed my teachers when I was younger. Not so much as I got through into high school, but then some of those teachers that I just thought were doing such a bad job, I thought, ‘You know, if I was ever a teacher, I would never do this, this, and this.’ When I was in college, I initially thought that you were not going to make any money. I was thinking I was going to be a stockbroker. That’s what I was initially thinking about doing, and that I was gonna make a ton of money and retire early, and you can’t do that with teaching, but after I finished in college, I was like, ‘You know what, I probably should have gone [into teaching].’ So, I had to go back and start working at it then.”

What qualities do you think makes a great teacher?

“I think flexibility. I always say to new teachers that you have to be able to roll with things sometimes. You’ve got to care about the kids. You’ve got to care about your subject matter. You’ve got to work at being better. Always be prepared with lesson plans.”

What is something that you’ve learned from teaching?

“We have a chance to impact kids every day, whether that’s going to be a positive impact or a negative impact. And we have a lot of sway over the feel in our classrooms. I really try to go into—and I don’t know if I always hit this goal—the day thinking, ‘Let’s make this a good day for the kids,’ rather than coming in like a thunderstorm every day and just land on the kids because I didn’t like school. I always try to remember that there are a lot of kids that are just checking days off every day when they come to school like I did starting my sophomore year because I couldn’t wait to get out of high school. So, I try to remember that not everybody is enjoying themselves, and not everybody wants to be here. A lot of kids have other issues that are going on in their lives and school is not a priority.”

What will you take away from winning this award?

“I’m so appreciative that Mrs. Penninga nominated me, [and] that they would think enough of me to give me the award. It just reminds me that I’m really lucky to be in this district, in this school. I think it’s a good reminder. It’s a tremendous honor, and I’m very happy to accept it.”