Lim transcends limits

After becoming a Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) state finalist, chemistry teacher Garrett Lim poses with his student, Sabrina Li, who nominated him for this award. “My students overall were very supportive, [and] when I told them that I [became a finalist], they were very celebratory. It was really cool to be uplifted in that way,” Lim said.

Anyone can film a video, or even complete a 27,500-character application, but not everyone has the expertise and dedication necessary to be recognized as a state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST), one of the most prestigious awards available to math and science teachers in the United States. However, chemistry teacher Garrett Lim isn’t just anyone.

Lim was first informed over email in early May that he was selected to be one of six PAEMST finalists in California.

“I went ahead and submitted the application, not knowing if I even had a chance. When I got the email that I was chosen as a finalist, I was in disbelief,” Lim said. “I’m focused on my students and what I can do for them to help them, so to be recognized as one of the better teachers in the state [is] really cool to see.”

Lim became involved in PAEMST when one of his students, senior Sabrina Li, nominated him for this award. The application included components like recommendation letters, a recording of a lesson and written responses regarding what makes him the best candidate.

“To be a finalist, it’s about the application. I had to dig deep and think about my career as a whole, from when I first started out to now,” Lim said. “There’s all these things that [PAEMST] says make a good teacher: a good teacher knows their content, a good teacher is reflective, a good teacher makes an impact on their community. These are the things I thought about and how I did them over the course of my career.”

In the beginning of the application process, Lim sought advice from one of his role models, a chemistry teacher who previously won the PAEMST in 1995. Not only did he give Lim logistical suggestions, but he also offered Lim words of encouragement.

“He helped me connect the lessons I taught with other parts of science as a whole. He would say, ‘I do this in my class,’ and then I think about what I do in my class that is similar [that] I can put in my application,” Lim said. “Sometimes he’ll say, ‘This section is really good,’ or ‘You could probably add this,’ so he was really helpful in that sense.”

In addition to other teachers, Lim is also thankful for the help of his students, friends and colleagues for answering surveys about their experience in his class, proofreading and writing letters of recommendation, respectively. However, Lim’s favorite parts were the community he formed with fellow chemistry teachers who also applied for PAEMST as well as getting a chance to reflect on his career.

“It was really cool to go back and forth, chatting with each other about our PAEMST applications. It was cool to work on something with people in other states,” Lim said. “As a teacher, it’s rare that we step back and look at the bigger picture, [so] another part I like was the application itself [because] it makes you take a step back and go, ‘This is where I’ve grown as a teacher and this is where I can grow.’”

After Lim became a state finalist, he had to respond to feedback given by the judging panel and submit 9,000 characters worth of supplemental information for the national level. The PAEMST awardees will be announced in August 2021.

“The application was very time consuming. I [sometimes] felt like my students, doing work until 3 a.m. in the morning,” Lim said. “I still can’t believe it because it’s been said that this is the award teachers should be striving for. I’m humbled by it because I usually just put my head down and teach, so I feel blessed to even be considered in the same atmosphere as some of the other finalists.”

By Cathy Li, Staff writer
Photos courtesy of Garrett Lim