With characteristic modesty, teacher George Morris describes
himself as "one of those people who hasn't had to worry about life.
I've been handed the nice things along the way."
On May 13, Morris received a prestigious international award,
the Pushkin Medal, named for the Russian poet, at an elegant
ceremony at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Friends, colleagues and students of Morris say no one is more
deserving of the award. The award recognizes Morris' almost 30
years of teaching the Russian language at St. Louis University High
"He's reluctant to acknowledge all the attention he has been
getting," said Mark Tychonievich, chairman of the department of
foreign languages at the high school. "He really does deserve it."
"It couldn't go to a better guy," said senior Brendan O'Malley.
"It's a really difficult language. He has made it easy . . . as
easy as it can be."
The medal is awarded by the International Association of
Teachers of the Russian Language and Culture. Morris was one of six
recipients of the medal this year and the only American.
"It's not the goal for which he has worked all these years,"
said Morris' wife, Beth. "But it's just really gratifying."
Beth Morris proudly displayed photographs from the ceremony
attended by the Russian Charges d'Affaires, Vladimir
Chkhikvishvili, currently the highest ranking Russian official in
the United States, as well as former medal winners and
Russian-language experts from across the country.
"The biggest thing that honored me was that the president of
our school, Father Robert Costello, made the trip to Washington,"
George Morris said. "It made me feel appreciated. It comes down to
being an award of all the things I've done over my career."
Morris, considered one of the most respected Russian teachers
in the United States and Moscow, has a lengthy list of
achievements. In December he traveled to Toronto to accept the
Excellence in Teaching at the Secondary Level Award from the
American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European
A textbook he co-authored with two Russians was published in
1993 and received enthusiastic reviews. It is being used in 350
high schools and 75 colleges and universities. Morris recently
finished the second of what is to be a four-volume set.
But Morris is perhaps best known for the
faculty-and-student-exchange program he helped organize between St.
Louis University High School and Moscow School 23. The program,
established in 1988, was one of the first organized after an
agreement signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in 1987.
"We were one of the original partners in the High School
Academic Partners Program," Morris said.
Each spring he takes about 20 students to Moscow School 23 for
four weeks. In the fall, Russian students from School 23 visit St.
Louis. For the past four years a faculty member from School 23 has
come to St. Louis University High School to teach Russian for the
school year. Irina Kotok is this year's exchange teacher and had
high praise for Morris.
"He is a linguist in the very best use of this word," Kotok
said. "He is the best non-native speaker I have ever heard."
But beyond his mastery of the language, Kotok credits Morris
with an understanding of both Russian culture and the students he
Referring to his textbook she said: "It's a very good book, not
only for grammar but for understanding the culture and history of