Current Academic Year Winners
Below are the winners for Teacher of the Month for the current academic year.
Teacher Jason Smith has a way of sparking creativity and passion in his students that help them to reach new heights in high school and beyond. For Smith, being a teacher is less about the craft he teaches and more about engaging students in a way that allows them to become confident individuals. He says, "The more years that I've been teaching, the more I'm realizing that it's really less about the welding and it's more about getting these kids excited about something."
Lauren Gardner, nominating student, said, "Mr. Smith never doubts a student's capabilities. He always encourages them to take on whatever they put their mind to." A fourth-year welding student, Gardner cannot imagine her life without the welding program. She says, "This is probably the best high school decision I made, to take welding my freshman year and continue it all the way."
Gardner's experience, like many other students, stems from Smith's goal of inspiring creativity through hands-on learning. He says, "They find a passion to work in an atmosphere like this. The welding industry has a lot of jobs and a lot of opportunities becoming available."
Saint Xavier University Associate Professor Peter Hilton says, "He's very student-centered. He seems to empower the students. They find their voice, their art; that part is just thrilling."
Teacher Sharon Bojan has developed an inspiring philosophy that she uses to make job-readiness an enjoyable pursuit. She says, "One thing we work on, as my students will say to you, we work on their ability, not their disability or their can's and not their cannot's. So, a lot of my students like to focus on what they can do to help the community and what they can do to help their families or what they can do to find a job."
Delia Jones, nominating student, shares, "She don't look at my disability but my ability." Through her work in the program, Jones was able to secure a position at Navy Pier, continuing her work as a custodian. She says, "Since I got a job, I can probably help my mom with the bills."
Jones's experience in the program and the optimism she carries with her to each job site inspires Bojan to continue bringing hope to all the students in the program. She cries, "I'm just so proud of her and everything she's done and how she feels about herself. And she feels good self-worth and she knows that she is important to me and to others and that she has an important place on earth."
Saint Xavier University Associate Professor Jane Lundin says, "They feel good about themselves; they feel successful. That's all because their teacher dwells on their strengths, so they feel like their contributing to the community, to the work environment. It's just such a great thing to see in action."
With an engaging twist of the curriculum called Café Conversation, French teacher Kristina Beck allows her students to learn French in a way that they can easily get excited about -- chocolate and conversation.
"She pays for this hot chocolate so that we can have a real French experience because with our friends we are at this table and in groups, and we talk in French as if we were on the streets of Paris in a café," says Emma Salgado, the nominating student. "Getting to have that language experience without having to leave the classroom, that's one of my favorite things."
Beck is inspired by her students to provide the immersive educational experience that drove her passion to pursue teaching French. She says, "[Salgado is] a student who is interested and ignited by French culture and French things, and I'm really happy to help foster that. I had a few French teachers growing up that fostered that in me, and it's always been my goal becoming a teacher and transmitting that to others."
Peter Hilton, Saint Xavier University associate professor, presented her with this honor, saying, "I think she's remarkable in that she engages the students so well, and they are excited about talking."
Beck says, "I did not expect anything like this. It's very humbling for me."
Marla Jackson trims away students' anxieties for their financial future by teaching them career skills that they can use right away. In 2015, Jackson began sharing her barbering expertise at Simeon Career Academy where students are thrilled to learn.
Nominating student, Reginald Norman says, "When we signed up for our majors, I was like, I want to barber. I was thinking it'll be real nice just to learn something new. Fading is real popular these days, so you [have to] get that technique down."
Jackson, however, does not only teach the latest trends in hair fashion. She says, "We go over anatomy, infection and control, entrepreneurship [and] microbiology."
Following their senior year, these students will have accrued enough practice hours to take the state licensing exam. This will allow them to begin working right away and aid them in their pursuit of a higher education. "When you get out of high school, and if you don't have the money for college tuition and everything, that can really help you a lot," Norman said.
Saint Xavier University Associate Professor Peter Hilton presented her with this honor, saying, "She reaches them in their personal lives and makes their lives better, and she's very positive and upbeat and gives them a sense of hope."
Darcie Murray is bringing current social issues to the front of her class. Although Chicagoland homelessness is outside of her English curriculum, Murray makes an effort to emphasize this hardship and the ways in which she and her students can aid the cause.
"I never really knew how many homeless families there were in our school," nominating student Angelina Rodriguez says "Once she said the number, I was like, wow."
Murray now leads a school-wide initiative, called Together Helping Others, to raise funds for those in need. Through bake sales, t-shirts and generous donations, the school has raised over $30,000 for the Lake Park homeless community.
Saint Xavier University representative Jane Lundin says, "Student success isn't just about success in academics -- it's success in the way they lead their lives. And she's truly a role model in helping and teaching students to be giving and to not be all about themselves."
Daniel Taff has a special sort of charisma that makes his natural chemistry students not only admire him, but also helps them fully understand the material. Taff emphasizes the importance of conversation and interaction in the learning process because he believes that it allows students to reinforce the concepts they are taught and ensure that they are able to explain it themselves.
Student Isreal Martinez was excited to nominate his teacher so that he could know how much he and other students appreciate the work he does.
Taff is always available to answer his students' questions, either in person or via email. He understands that, ultimately, he is there for his students' educations and futures above all else, so it is best to tailor the lessons in a way that best benefits them -- whether it is through discussion, humor or activities.
Orlando Gonzalez takes gym class to a whole new level. "Adventure P.E.", as it is fittingly called, offers students at Bolingbrook High School a break from the traditional. Gonzalez's unique curriculum includes anything from archery and fishing to weightlifting and getting CPR certified.
These activities give students the opportunity to accumulate new practical and survival skills while also building confidence and having fun. Because she decided to try something new and take this particular class, nominating student Britanni Pendleton says that she feels more hopeful about what other exciting things she can pursue in life.
Gonzalez makes sure to get to know his students' interests and goals and this knowledge helps him better connect with them and teach them in class. His impact on his students is meaningful; his guidance and support helps them feel good about themselves and find success in what they do.
Alison Schroeder makes it her mission to tap into her students natural curiosity to build their love for science. She takes the time to get to know each and every one of her 150 seventh grade students on an individual basis so that she can determine the best way to meet their education needs.
Paired with the positivity and energy that Shroeder brings into the classroom every day, this method has been very successful. One student in particular, Kevin Murdock, appreciates his teacher's approach to teaching so much that he nominated her for Teacher of the Month recognition. To help him overcome his learning disability, Shroeder has individualized his assignments and provides him with the extra boost of confidence he needs to help him realize his potential. Murdock strongly believes she is the best teacher he could ever ask for.
"I don't think I do anything different from any other educator out there," remarks Shroeder. "Our goal as educators is to see our kids grow, develop, and become lifelong learners."