The smiles and laughs inside Stuart Kantor's English class say it all. The seniors at Bishop Lynch High School look forward to it.
"It's not a senioritis class," senior Elizabeth Underwood said. "You want to come to this class, you don't want to skip it."
Students say it's because Kantor takes time getting to know each student. He gives them all nicknames and takes an active interest in supporting their academics, activities outside the classroom and focusing on their future.
"When you walk into his classroom, you know, no matter what you'll be comfortable," senior Ann Cao said. "He helps everyone break out of their shell."
College banners decorate the walls in his classroom. Each one represents where former students have attended college.
"He's really interested in where we're going to college, how we're thinking about college and our college decisions," Underwood said. "This class has really prepared me for what I think college English discussions will be like."
All of these things are why his current students nominated him as an Excellent Educator. Southern Methodist University presented him with a $1,000 check.
"We all believe, and especially SMU believes, that education is an opportunity that should be presented to kids of all kinds of socio-economic and different backgrounds," said Suku Nair, SMU professor and director of the AT&T Center for Virtualization.
Kantor said it is important to remember in addition to setting a standard of hard work in the classroom, it's important to know what's happening in the lives of his students.
"Behind every student are individual stories and we can't expect them to be cookie cutter students," Kantor said. "They have their own issues going on. We don't live in an environment where everything is utopian, whether it's students or teachers or staff or faculty, we all have issues we're dealing with."
Students say a focus on respect for each other, empathy and a positive attitude set Kantor apart from others.
"[Teachers] are who we see every day and change our lives and impact us and I think Mr. Kantor is the best example of a teacher like that," Underwood said.