Rebecca Mieliwocki receiving the National Teacher of the Year honor from President Barack Obama.
Rebecca Mieliwocki named National Teacher of the Year
In a light-hearted White House ceremony, CTA member Rebecca Mieliwocki was honored as the 2012 National Teacher of the Year by President Barack Obama.
“Rebecca is the definition of above and beyond,” said President Obama in presenting the honor. She responded, “I’m not the best teacher in America — but I am a reflection of all of us who have devoted ourselves to teaching.”
Mieliwocki (pronounced like the city of Milwaukee) will serve for one year as a full-time national and international spokesperson for public education. CTA President Dean E. Vogel said, “As the nation’s advocate for public schools, she will inspire others about the promise of our state’s classrooms, just as she has inspired a love of learning in her middle school students in Burbank for many years.”
Mieliwocki has advocated for education in comments since being named Teacher of the Year, speaking out on issues ranging from the need for teacher training and professional development to support for public schools. She has made it clear that “commitment to education must extend beyond the walls of the classroom. Parent support and community involvement are essential to ensure the success of our students.”
Teachers face so many barriers to student success that they didn’t create and that are beyond their control, Mieliwocki noted. “I can’t control whether my students eat breakfast, have a place to sleep at night, whether they have access to technology. I can do everything I can when they step into my classroom to try to level the playing field, but one person alone just can’t do it all, and that’s pretty overwhelming.”
Mieliwocki said there are amazing teachers across the country, and they cannot fix the problems in schools alone. “In any school system in any state, whether the most affluent district or not, you have families in crisis right now. Everyone is worried about money, jobs, and their economic future. I see it in my classroom. The needs are so great — health care, hunger, transportation, clothing, parents losing jobs.”
“We don’t have the funding to keep up with all the things we need to do to give children a 21st century education,” Mieliwocki added. “In California, funding has been cut to such a degree it’s a real challenge to stay strong. It feels like you’re saving children’s lives with education — but you might not be able to do it. If you don’t have the desks, you don’t have the books, you don’t have the technology, you might not be able to do it. That would give anyone low morale, not just teachers.”
Mieliwocki has been teaching for 14 years and has spent nine years in her current position as a seventh-grade English teacher. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in speech communication from California Polytechnic State University and a professional clear credential in secondary English education from CSU Northridge. She is the 2005 California League of Middle Schools Educator of the Year for Southern California, a 2009 PTA Honorary Service Award winner and a Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment mentor.
To CTA State Council: We are all remarkable
Mieliwocki reflected on teaching excellence in California at CTA’s State Council in March: “We are nothing and we are everything.” She talked about the perspective she shares with the other California Teachers of the Year: Florence Avognon, Los Angeles County Education Association; Tom Collett, Newark Teachers Association; Shari Ann Herout, Travis Unified Teachers Association; and Ken LaVigne, Whittier Secondary Education Association.
“In our first year of teaching, we were enthusiastic teachers committed to imparting our content knowledge to our students. We were the ones coming in early, staying late; we’d be the ones calling parents at lunch time and working with colleagues after school on our lessons to make sure that tomorrow was even better; and we’d be devoting our weekends going to conventions and conferences just like this to try to strengthen our craft.
“And now, years later, after all those kids that we’ve seen, we see the true importance in teaching is not necessarily in our subject matter. It’s in the connections we make with young people; it’s the way we help our students become better people. We know value lies in all the little acts of love that a teacher can give a child — whether it’s the first smile or the only smile that an adult will give that child that day; whether it’s the fact that your classroom is a safe harbor for a kid that needs refuge at lunchtime; maybe it’s the high-five for a job well done; or maybe it’s having a shoulder strong enough for a kid to cry on when his mother dies from breast cancer.
“Whatever that act is, what rises above all the rest is that as teachers, we realize what we do about loving children and understanding who they are as human beings is far more than the sum of their academic parts. There is simply nothing we won’t do to help a child, to help every child realize that their life, their learning, their development as a young person is everything to us. We love our students maybe even more than we love our jobs.
“We teachers have a front row seat to the future. Our impact is enormous. It shapes the lives of every child we teach and it fills the better world we all live in. Far too many work too hard for too long without ever being reminded about that.”
Mieliwocki said it will be her mission to share that message, “how incredibly important teachers are. You are all remarkable, we are all remarkable, and I’m so honored I get to represent you.”
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