Erin Reichert receives the Milken Educator Award at a surprise assembly, surrounded by her students.
When Bluffton High students in South Carolina were asked which teacher they would most likely refer to as “mom,” there was little debate that it would be Mrs. Reichert. It comes as no surprise when you hear about the unique and personal ways in which Erin (Clemmons) Reichert (’05) connects with her students and inspires a passion for learning. In fact, Reichert’s teaching philosophy has not only won the affection of her students, but has also earned her the Milken Educator Award – referred to by many as the “Oscar” of teaching.
Nevertheless, Reichert will be the first to tell you that this was never part of her plan. “You never know what your story is going to be,” Reichert says. “I thought I was going to be a lifer in Chicago. But my journey came from out of the blue.”
Reichert grew up in Illinois and planned to stay there for her entire life. She started her teaching career in Chicago, where she learned from an incredible teaching staff. For her, it was truly a dream job. Right after she finished her bachelor’s degree, she went to Lewis University for her master’s degree in school counseling. But halfway through the program, she started wondering if she even wanted to do school counseling. As God would have it, it is a degree that she uses daily in her teaching and interactions with her students – including her very first day of teaching: September 11, 2001.
“What I learned at Lewis makes me think of my students in a different way, using counseling skills to incorporate ease into their minds,” Reichert explains. “It led to the person I am in the school – not just a content teacher, but someone who can relate to them differently and talk to them about college, goals, and life. They know that I am going to focus on them as a person and that I care more about their character and living up to their potential than their specific grades."
Reichert’s plan also took a turn when she married and moved with her husband to South Carolina. She left her dream job and moved to a new state where she, in the beginning, felt out of place. She really struggled – until she stopped wishing she was in Chicago and realized that her own “transplant” helped her to better relate to her students, many of whom had moved from other states themselves or, in some way, felt out of place in their lives.
Through life’s twists and turns, Reichert ultimately held on to what she learned at Lewis. She takes the time to instill in her students a confidence in themselves. Sometimes they don’t see their own potential, so she helps them to see it. In her history classes, and the Youth and Government program she spearheads, she gets her students genuinely excited to learn and actively engaged – not only in the classroom, but also in the community. Many of her students have gone on to work in government or become active community members and citizens. Many students have come back to her to tell her that she is the reason they are who they are. For Reichert, that’s what teaching is all about. While she boasts an impressive list of learning opportunities and programs for her students, at the end of the day, her approach towards her students as unique individuals is what made her the “mom” of Bluffton High.
And Reichert’s approach was noticed by more than just her students. In 2018, she received the Milken Educator Award during a surprise assembly in her honor. The prestigious award, which includes a gift of $25,000, is given to early-to-mid career education professionals who display excellence in education and promise for the future. Currently, an American Educator Museum is being built which faces the White House and will display Milken Award winners, Reichert included.
Reichert was shocked when she learned she was a recipient of the award. But, in her typical fashion, she acknowledged that the award was about her students, not her. From receiving a student-centered Lewis education to becoming a truly student-centered educator, Reichert daily lives out the Lewis mission to transform the lives of her students through inclusive community, quality education, and a respect for the dignity of each individual. In other words, Reichert truly is the “mom” of Bluffton High.
Click here to watch the video of Reichert receiving the Milken Educator Award.