Orion's Lister named one of state's best

Mindy Carls
Orion High School teacher Andrew Lister, a 2022 winner of the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, assists students in one of his classes in March. From left are Emmalyn Foster, Courtney Farwell and Abby Watson.

The e-mail to Orion High School teacher Andrew Lister began “Thank you for applying.” Pretty routine.

He was a little shocked when it went on to offer congratulations for his selection as one of 32 finalists chosen from 700 applicants.

“I was pretty floored by the whole thing,” he said. “It was pretty wild.”

He made Principal Nathan DeBaillie promise that if he won, and the award was to be presented at school, DeBaillie would give him a heads up. DeBaillie promised.

Three months later, the principal asked Lister to help present awards during the academic honors night on Tuesday, May 10, in Central Park. The all-too-trusting Lister agreed.

As DeBaillie began to speak on Tuesday night, Lister was unaware of the Golden Apple Foundation officials leading dozens of Lister’s family and friends into the park from their hiding place in Orion United Methodist Church.

He was overwhelmed when Alan Mather, foundation president, presented him with the award.

Lister graduated from United Township High School, East Moline, and spent two years at Black Hawk College and three at Northern Illinois University.

Along the way, he dropped his major in computer science.

“It was not what I thought it was going to be,” Lister said. He already was working on a minor in English because he enjoyed writing.

“I changed directions and haven’t looked back,” he said.

He earned a master’s degree in English at the Western Illinois University campus in the Quad Cities.

Lister began his full-time teaching career in 2007 at OHS. After eight years, he went to Pleasant Valley to teach. Then he returned to Orion.

“This is year five back in Orion,” Lister said. He did enjoy his time at Pleasant Valley, a bigger school with a more diverse population. The English department was bigger and offered a wider variety of classes. He had great co-workers, but he missed his co-workers and students at OHS, and the Orion community.

Returning to Orion “felt like the right decision, like coming back home,” Lister said.

Lister teaches English III to juniors and honors English III as a dual credit course. He also teaches dual credit courses to seniors.

When he returned to Orion, he started an e-sports team that’s been running strong under his leadership ever since.

Lister introduces students to original sources on American history and life.

“I like to focus on personal narratives of people my students may not know about, the stories behind their experiences,” Lister said. The authors are persons of color who’ve experienced racism or persons who’ve confronted gender issues.

Lister wants the students to develop empathy and learn to understand the world out there, the things that students in smaller districts don’t normally see or experience.

“Twelve Years a Slave,” both a book and a movie, challenges what they learned about slavery from the first-hand accounts of slave masters. The first-person account of a slave is “eye-opening, raw,” Lister said. “It’s real.”

The book gives a good view of the human spirit, he said.

“It’s difficult to read in some ways, but offers a deeper understanding of what that time period was like,” Lister said.

The emotional difficulty of the text itself is challenging. Students know what they’re reading is real. The author tells stories about what others went through to give them a voice.

Instead of giving pre- and post-tests, he gauges what students have learned through conversations, writing assignments and projects.

It’s hard to denounce someone’s personal experiences, and he selects texts that deserve an audience.

“Everything is worth discussing,” Lister said.

He would like to do more to coordinate with social studies classes, especially those in junior year that focus on American history.

Lister said his strengths are building rapport with students and challenging them academically. He wants to get them thinking and writing outside of their comfort zone.

Another of his strengths is the depth of his knowledge of class content, developed over 15 years in the classroom. He is comfortable changing things up and trying something new.

Lister builds writing into lessons and balances it with reading.

“Understanding the basics of writing is an essential skill,” he said.

Just being nominated for the Golden Apple Award was humbling, Lister said.

Being recognized as a good teacher validates the last few years of e-learning and other new methods, he said.

“The things that I do and my co-workers do matter,” Lister said. “The things we do day-to-day have been important.”