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Teacher of the Month

Winners

January 2016, Stephen Kurfess

Congratulations to Stephen Kurfess, a mathematics teacher at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, IL, for being January's Teacher of the Month.

Stephen Kurfess kicks off each school day by greeting students in the hallways. He prioritizes connecting with his students and making math interesting and exciting.

"I feel that part of being a teacher is you really need someone to entertain the kids," explains Kurfess. "Math is pretty dry if you just teach them the basic formulas and the basic facts, so you kind of have to jazz it up a little bit. I just like having fun."

Another way Kurfess has a positive influence on his students is by setting a good example. He usually takes at least one day out of each semester to just talk about being a good person and providing his classes with general life lessons.

"You have to help other people out, and it's just so important in life," Kurfess says. 

He is well-known for his generosity. Conant High School has a fund in place for needy students and their families and Kurfess is one of the biggest donors. Thus, to thank his students for the recognition, it was no surprise that he decided to donate his Teacher of the Month award directly to the fund. 

"I've had a lot of great role models in my past that have instilled in me the idea of working hard, being energetic, being passionate," explains Smalley. He wants his students be confident in who they are and allows his classroom to be a place that facilitates that idea.

December 2015, Mike Smalley

Congratulations to Mike Smalley, a history teacher at Crystal Lake Central High School in Crystal Lake, IL, for being December's Teacher of the Month.

Mike Smalley considers himself to be a history buff. His passion for the subject shows in his animated teaching style and confidence in his students' abilities. He has made it one of his main goals to spark an interest in others and he actively works towards this goal with everyday.

Smalley believes that anyone can excel at history if they set their mind to it. He engages his students through humor and by encouraging student participation in class discussion. Among other things, he also begins each class with music from the time period he is lecturing on that day.

Chad Harrah, the student who nominated Smalley for Teacher of the Month, says, "Everything's real. He compares things to the past, today, and the future. He acts out history...he makes me believe that I can achieve things." Harrah, like many other students, view Smalley as a positive role model.

"I've had a lot of great role models in my past that have instilled in me the idea of working hard, being energetic, being passionate," explains Smalley. He wants his students be confident in who they are and allows his classroom to be a place that facilitates that idea.

November 2015, Tonya Marchman-Davis

Congratulations to Tonya Marchman-Davis, an English and drama teacher at Corliss High School in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago, for being November's Teacher of the Month.

Tonya Marchman-Davis has a flair for dramatics. By teaching both subjects, she gets to use different teaching styles. Marchman-Davis says that in English she runs a very structured classroom and in drama she allows her students to be whoever they want to be.

"I surprise them every day," explains Marchman-Davis. "I have to be out of myself to get them to be out of themselves." She wants her students to let themselves be free and show their skills in a different kind of way each and every day. Her students appreciate that they can express themselves fully in her classes and also learn something at the same time. She uses different activities such as role-playing to involve her students and keep them interested.

The student who nominated Marchman-Davis for this award was both a surprise and a personal victory for his teacher. Jorge Alvarado attributes his successes in finding his voice to the time spent in her classes. "Before I came to school, I didn't really talk. I was really quiet. I was afraid to speak up in public," says Alvarado. "Then when I came here and I first saw her, I knew she was different from all my other teachers. Whenever I'm scared to speak up, she encourages me."

October 2015, Lindsay Consdorf

Congratulations to Lindsay Consdorf, a chemistry teacher at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, IL, for being October's Teacher of the Month.

Lindsay Consdorf's instruction goes well beyond chemistry. Alongside typical science coursework, she likes to place a special focus on teaching stress management skills to her students. While the topics covered in class change throughout the year, her lessons on managing stress remain a constant.

"The students that I tend to get in class are so stressed," says Consdorf. She attributes this stress to the parents and the community, as well as to the students themselves. She realized that her students could benefit from extra support and thus makes it a priority of hers to make sure they know how to deal with any stress they are faced with.

Consdorf presents research to her students about apps that she has found and time management techniques that she believes will be helpful to her students. According to her, the short amount of time it takes to give them these life skills is well worth it.

"I gave them a useful life skill," says Consdorf. "I feel like it's so much more important than any chemistry lesson or chemistry fact that they might have picked up along the way."

September 2015, Arturs Weible

Congratulations to Arturs Weible, a music teacher at Chopin Elementary School in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, for being September's Teacher of the Month.

Arturs Weible is extremely passionate about teaching music to his students in a way that is both exciting and instructional. He believes each and every one of his students has potential to do great things.

"Every child sings, every child taps and hums, and so every child has musical ability and spirit in them," says Weible. "but they just, perhaps, need a little nudge."

Weible showcases the talents of his 80 member string orchestra students in concerts at Orchestra Hall downtown, as well as Gilda's Club for their Mother's Day Brunch and St. Elizabeth Hospital at Christmastime for patients and staff. Weible also has his students perform at other schools in the area in order to introduce string instruments to students who otherwise may not have the opportunity.