Glen Cove High School Language Arts teacher Lauren Jensen walked into a schoolwide assembly at her school on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and was surprised with the prestigious Milken Educator Award and presented with a $25,000 check.
In front of a large group that included the school principal, colleagues, students, staff and distinguished community members, Jensen was given the surprise of her life when she was handed the distinct navy blue envelope by Milken Family Foundation co-founder Michael Milken.
“I’m completely shocked,” Jensen said. “I’ve only been teaching in the district for three years. I’m mostly overwhelmed that in that short time I could have made such an impact.”
For the next six months, in up to 40 schools around the U.S., outstanding middle and high school educators will receive the Milken Educator Award and an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000.
Milken said Jensen, who hails from Glen Cove, was on a full research fellowship at NYU working towards her doctorate in education when she decided her heart was in the classroom—as well as her hometown—after nine years of teaching in Virginia.
“Lauren is a lifelong learner committed to improving the way English is taught and learned,” said Milken. “She challenges her students to think more analytically and express themselves in writing more clearly and persuasively—core skills that endure for a lifetime. Always the consummate professional, she believes every student can achieve if he or she is truly engaged. That belief is felt by all who work with her. We’re happy to welcome her to the Milken Educator family.”
“Ms. Jensen’s students are fortunate to have a teacher who challenges them to think deeper, write clearer and ask tougher questions. These skills will serve them well in college, in the workforce and as citizens,” New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “Ms. Jensen’s colleagues in her building—and across the state—are also fortunate to work with her. She has demonstrated a commitment to sharing best practices and to strengthening professional development opportunities for the teachers in her district. Thank you to the Milken Family Foundation for recognizing such an outstanding educators, and congratulations to Ms. Jensen on all of her accomplishments.”
As a 10th- and 12th-grade English Language Arts teacher at Glen Cove High School, Jensen’s passion for education and high standards motivates students to aim higher. Her no-nonsense, student-centered instruction considers various learning styles and is grounded in exploring larger themes that encourage students to ask and discuss the “big question.” Jensen’s desire to see her students succeed fosters a sense of community in the classroom. Students feel safe enough to take risks and trust each other for feedback.
Self-assessment is an important part of Jensen’s unique teaching method, too. She believes students should take some responsibility in monitoring their own academic improvements. Utilizing individual portfolios, students keep track of writing assignments, including written feedback from Jensen, peers and themselves. Her students have come to believe that no project or writing piece is truly “finished,” and as a result are always looking for ways to improve. At the end of the school year, each student revises a self-selected piece to demonstrate their growth as a writer.
Jensen is fully committed to her students’ active engagement in their education. She motivates them to draw connections between texts and the real world by creating podcast book reviews, developing lesson plans and other project-based learning techniques.
As the district writing coach, Jensen serves the Glen Cove community through the design of professional development targeting writing goals across elementary school curriculum. She has shared best teaching practices statewide and nationally with an emphasis on implementing writing across curriculum and was featured in a state-produced video highlighting her work as an exemplar for Common Core Learning Standards.
Several of her students have gone on to become teachers and journalists, citing her influence.
Jensen graduated magna cum laude from Wake Forest University in 2002 and earned her master of arts in The Teaching of English from Columbia University Teachers College in 2008.
The Milken Educator Awards program, which was launched by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987, has been described as “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher magazine. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees. Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Milken Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to MFF.