Teacher’s Center

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Last month, President Barack Obama awarded Rebecca Mieliwocki (pronounced Mil-WAU-kee), a seventh-grade English teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School, in Burbank, California, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year Award. This honor dates back to 1952, when elementary teacher Geraldine Jones was honored. The award is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) rewarding excellence in teaching.

This event got me thinking. What really makes a “teacher of the year”? In honoring Ms. Mieliwocki, phrases such as, “goes above and beyond”, “committed”, “enthusiastic”, and “has high expectations for students” were tossed about. With all due respect for Ms. Mieliwocki and her obvious accomplishments, these superlatives could be applied to any good teacher. In several interviews, Ms. Mieliwocki described herself as positive, loving what she does, staying relevant to the kids, and giving her students the skills they need to be successful in any kind of global career; again, a description for many teachers throughout the nation.


To be a contender for the National Teacher of the Year Award, candidates must first be a State Teacher of the Year who is “an exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable, and skilled teacher.”  According to CCSSO’s criteria, a National Teacher of the Year candidate should:

  • inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn
  • have the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues
  • play an active and useful role in the community as well as in the school
  • be poised and articulate, and possess the energy to withstand a taxing schedule

I can’t imagine how the selection process evolves from there to select a “winner,” as so many teachers fulfill these criteria. But what I do know is that good teachers change young people’s lives every day. I also know that there are a great number of teachers who are operating highly innovative classrooms that are transforming education and doing great things for kids—teachers who are educating young people to be innovators by encouraging collaboration in classroom activities and projects, incorporating multidisciplinary learning to solve problems or create something new, and focusing in intrinsic motivations for learning through a combination of play, passion, and purpose.


It’s now May. The school year is starting to wind down. The energy in the old tanks is draining fast. We all might need a little time for reflection on the things we did this year that were truly innovative and made a difference. We’d like to know what you’re doing in the classroom that makes your teaching exceptional. How are you making a difference in students’ lives? What are you doing to help prepare your students for a global economy? How do you stay relevant with the fast pace world students are moving in? What instructional techniques or strategies are you using to teach students the skills they need? How are you holding students (and yourself) accountable? Let us know your thoughts. Begin a discussion in the Comments section below. Let us know what you’re doing or what you’d like to do. As a community of educators, we all have something to share.

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