Many teachers knew they'd enter their profession long before they taught their first class.
This wasn't the case for Dianna Granata, 50, a teacher who has taught English at for 17 years, after a 20-year stint as a cashier at nearby Jewel-Osco.
The Oak Lawn resident was recently honored at the opening Chicago Bears game against the Atlanta Falcons with the Heroes in the Classroom award, presented by Gallagher Benefit Services and Symetra Financial.
Every year, the three organizations honor 16 teachers across the metropolitan Chicago area for their exemplary teaching methods. This award is given to dedicated teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty, according to Brian Hutchens of Gallagher Benefit Services.
“We receive hundreds, if not thousands of applications each year, but Ms. Granata stood out to us,” said Hutchens, because Principal William Sanderson nominated her, not students, former students or parents, who normally nominate teachers.
“Those are all compelling, but when you have somebody that’s leading a school that recognizes the above and beyond efforts of one of their employees, it says a lot about what they’ve done,” said Hutchens. The fact that Sanderson nominated her, “means that, as a leader, he respects her,” he said.
“I nominated Ms. Granata based on her dedication to our students and was thrilled to find out she was selected out of thousands of applicants.,” said Sanderson.
In early September, Granata was surprised at a faculty meeting when Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey and representatives from the sponsoring companies showed up to announce the honor.
Preoccupied with her to-do list, Granata said as she listened to the winner’s credentials, she was thinking about “what I have to do tomorrow.” She had no idea they were talking about her.
A shocked Granata said “It’s an honor for me and an honor for the school. I love my work and I love the kids and the people I work with.”
Granata teaches junior-level English and helps prepare students for college entrance exams, an instrumental time in their high school career. “Her whole career is devoted to getting those kids ready for it,” said Granata’s husband Hank Graver. Often giving up weekends and extra time before and after school, Graver said. “She’s really serious about it. She’s constantly looking for new resources.”
Granata created an invaluable resource for students, an interactive website dedicated to test prep, assignments, study guides, class activities and ways to get parents involved in helping their students.
Although Granata wasn’t always a teacher in the traditional sense, she said she’s always enjoyed helping young people.
“My favorite part of my job was training all of the young people when they would come in,” she said. Graver said his wife would study for her education courses at Governors State University while working at Jewel.
Madeline Landis, 18, who’s a student at and 2011 graduate of Evergreen Park Community High School, said students affectionately called Granata “Mama Nada.” She met Granata the same school that her friend Landis said Granata allowed students to grieve after the shock of losing a classmate.
“She was really loving, had a heart, and really helped us push through and talk about Danielle,” said Landis. “She’s so awesome!”
In addition to receiving the honor, Granata was given $250 to spend at Office Max for classroom supplies, and $1000 was donated to Evergreen Park Community High School in her name to do whatever she’d like.
She said she’d like to spend the money on “anything that comes up for technology, or ACT prep.”
Granata enjoyed her first Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field with the honor of seeing herself on the jumbotron and receiving her personalized Chicago Bears jersey before kickoff.
Asked what advice she'd give to aspiring teachers, Granata said, “Your subject area isn’t as important as your commitment to be a motivator and trying to stay positive, and trying to help the kids. Your enthusiasm is what’s important, because that’s what keeps them from falling asleep.”