Before starting his job as a fifth grade teacher at Our Lady of Victory School in Washington, D.C., Thomas Corrigan was working in the restaurant industry and had sensed a call to change careers. Now, five years after he began teaching, he has been selected as a 2019 Golden Apple Award winner, which he said is affirmation that he made the right decision.

Thomas Corrigan (ADW photo/Gaillard Teague)

“When I first met Mr. Corrigan he was not in this career field…but felt God was calling him to be a teacher and serve in Catholic education,” said Sheila Martinez, the principal of Our Lady of Victory School, just after Jem Sullivan, the Secretary for Catholic Education for the Archdiocese of Washington, had announced to the school that Corrigan had received a Gold Apple Award on March 26.

Martinez asked the students, “How glad are you that he said ‘yes’ to God’s call?” which was met with cheers and applause. Corrigan told the Catholic Standard that he is also pleased with his decision to teach.

“It is so much fun, and it is rewarding,” he said. “Every day I leave feeling like I have made a difference and every night I have the hope that the next day I can make a difference in my students, my colleagues, (and) my family's lives.”

Corrigan is one of 11 Golden Apple Award winners across the Archdiocese of Washington, who were selected to receive this annual award for their dedication to Catholic education. During an award dinner in May, they will each be presented with a golden apple, a certificate and a $5,000 prize, which is made possible through the generosity of the Donahue Family Foundation.

Students present Corrigan with a hand-made poster to congratulate him for his award. (ADW photo/Gaillard Teague)

During the March 26 announcement, after Corrigan had walked down the center aisle of Our Lady of Victory Church, high-fiving students along the way, he sat down in a chair surrounded by balloons and baskets full of apples. Students from each grade presented him with a handmade poster, including one saying “YODA man Mr. Corrigan,” with a drawing of Yoda from Star Wars.

Corrigan is known for making the classroom fun through Star Wars jokes, games, dancing and whistling during class, and doing cartoon impersonations. Martinez said he “brings to school every day the joy of the Gospel.”

“Mr. Corrigan is probably the most fun teacher to be around. He has the most positive attitude and personality,” she said. “Attitude is everything, and Mr. Corrigan’s attitude toward education, teaching, his students, the school, his colleagues, the families – you cannot compare with anybody else’s positive attitude. Mr. Corrigan is always in a good mood every single day and every moment of the day. He is always telling a joke, making you laugh, [or] saying something funny. He is always willing and ready to do absolutely anything that needs to be done.”

Fifth grade students say “good morning” to each other during their morning meeting on March 26. (ADW photo/Gaillard Teague)

But in addition to all of the fun, he tries to instill in his students values that help them to make good decisions.

“He does have this deep personal faith, and he engages with his students, particularly about how their actions and their faith are connected together,” said Martinez. “He is very good at helping his students think through what would be an appropriate decision here or helping his students reason in faith, infuse what they believe about who God is, about who they are in God, to make a decision or a choice.”

Corrigan attended Catholic school from grade school through college, and said as he was discerning the call to become a teacher, “I realized that many of the values that I have and that I put to use every day in the way I live with my family, with my colleagues, with my students, so many of the strategies that I use I gained from Catholic education.”

“I think it is a real gift that our Catholic school students get to have the Catholic education to have those values and to use them in all parts of their life, not just in education but in dealing socially with their peers as well,” he said.

In particular, Corrigan said he tries to instill a sense of empathy in his students.

“Are you thinking about how your peers and fellow students, how they feel in a certain situation? Can you put yourself in their shoes?” he explained. “It is something I use every day myself and I try to model it and guide the students to make similar decisions…I think it is very important for kids that are developing at this age.”

Corrigan stands with his fifth grade class after learning that he had received a 2019 Golden Apple Award. (ADW photo/Gaillard Teague)

Adriana Maximiliano nominated Corrigan to receive the Golden Apple Award because her son, Patrick, asked her to do so. Her son, who is in the fifth grade class, likes his teacher so much that he works extra hard to make him happy, Maximiliano said.

“Mr. Corrigan has a very positive energy and now that we are at the end of the year, I can say it is endless,” Maximiliano said. “He also knows how to motivate the kids to work harder and as a team and also he is a very good confidence booster. I see my son is very happy here.”

Ava Perry-Junior, who is currently in Mr. Corrigan’s fifth grade class, said, “I will always remember that there was a very kind teacher in fifth grade.”