Congratulations to Cyndi Sulak of St. Charles North High School. Sulak has been in the classroom for seven years and teaches history, including classes such as honors European history and global issues. “Students like narratives. They like fiction. History is a story, so if we can bring it down to that, they can usually connect to it or some aspect of it to their own lives,” she says. Sulak says that she “does her job for the kids” and the nomination is “very humbling, very exciting, and very surprising all at the same time.” Her students think it’s well deserved.
Congratulations to Daniel Briggs of Brother Rice High School. As the director of music, Briggs teaches six classes and three levels of band. He says he never met a musical instrument he couldn’t teach a student to play. Briggs’s availability and boundless energy is key to his success as a teacher. One student says that “twenty-four seven, he’s always happy, upbeat.” Briggs believes “as soon as a student steps foot in the school, it’s our jobs as teachers to teach him. I get here at 6 a.m. and I stay till 6 p.m. Any time a student needs me, for anything, I’m here to help them.” He goes on to say, “I am their advocate in everything.”
Congratulations to Molly Myers of Chicago's Lindblom Math and Science Academy in the Englewood community. A freshman human geography teacher, Molly Myers discourages her students from focusing on grades, and instead gets them engaged with learning. Her students consider Myers a very supportive teacher with a willingness to help, even writing letters and messages to tell them how they are and how they can improve in school. Myers wants students to "become a two-year old again, because if you keep asking why and then go find the answer... you get to some pretty amazing places."
Congratulations to Jason Okrasinski of Crete Monee High School. Known by his students as Mr. O, he is preparing his students to successfully navigate the internet in today’s computer-driven world. His students see him as “everything you’d really want in a teacher” – helpful, thorough and pushes them to “get better every day.” Okrasinski takes every chance he can to make a personal connection with his students and teach them that “learning is a life-long process.” Okrasinski is very flattered by the nomination and the caring things Kelly Green, the nominating student, wrote.
Congratulations to Brad Breakfield of Boone Upper Elementary near Rockford. His sixth-grade class thinks he puts the “A” in amazing. Morgaine Olsen, the nominating student, says he is the best, constantly pushing her and her classmates toward excellence.
Another student, Jacob Kruckenberg, says, “He’s the outline of a teacher, perfect, awesome.” Breakfield has a lot of fun with his students because “a really good learning environment makes it less stressful.” He makes sure to “get every kid at their level… every kid is challenged but not so challenged that he gets frustrated.”
Congratulations to Kim Mullen of St Paul’s Lutheran School in Munster, Indiana. Kim Mullen may have stepped away from teaching for twenty years, but it didn’t diminish her passion. As a 5th grade teacher, her students appreciate her light, engaging but structured teaching style. Mullen keeps her students interested with a wide variety of activities and by telling them her own childhood memories. Muller aims to make her students “life-long learners” by showing them that class can be fun, but they can learn something, too.
Congratulations to Brett Sharkey of Maine West High School in Des Plaines, who is September’s Teacher of the Month. In honor of his achievements, Sharkey received a $1,000 check from Saint Xavier University.
A special education teacher, Sharkey conducts class wherever there is a lesson to be taught, going out of his way to help his students cultivate new skills that will motivate them in their lives and communities. “My goal for the kids I’m dealing with now is I’d like to make and help them become as independent as possible,” says Sharkey.
Congratulations to Steve Parsons of Chicago’s Lane Tech High School. Parsons’ students are so taken with him that ten students entered his name for Teacher of the Month consideration. One student says that he learns “not only about psychology but how to be a better person in society.” As a psychology teacher, he asks his students to become advisors and come up with psychological programs to help America. Parsons says, “In order to get somebody to believe that they can be a better person, in order to get somebody to believe that they can achieve whatever they want in life… you just tell them. And eventually they’ll come believe to believe it. …Because, ultimately, it’s true.”
Congratulations to Terry Jozwik of Glenbrook South High School. He has mastered the art of engaging his students and keeping them engaged. As a social studies teacher, and a faculty sponsor of the model UN, he broadens his students’ perspectives. Bridgette Kilpatrick, the nominating student, says Jozwik “pushes his students to think outside the box.” She says he encourages all the students to be leaders and teaches everyone about respecting each other.
Jozwik loves teaching young people, saying that “each kid has something to offer in class and you just have to find what it is that they have, they possess and help them to nurture that and bring it out.” Jozwik says he was surprised and delighted at being nominated.
Congratulations Lisa Ehrlich-Menard of Curie Metropolitan High School. As a drama teacher, she aims to make her students step outside their comfort zone. “We’re talking about opening minds and looking at this from various angles,” Ehrlich-Menard says. She doesn’t shy from difficult topics; her students and the school responded strongly to a recent production of “The Laramie Project.” Her students said this was a “life-changing experience” and “completely changed their mindset.” Mrs. E, as her students call her, was so touched by the nomination she was left temporarily without words.
Congratulations to Susan Steinmiller of Gage Park High School, who is March's Teacher of the Month. In honor of her achievements, Steinmiller received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.
Steinmiller is a history teacher to high school teens, and she has been teaching for 19 years. The devoted teacher drives 100 miles daily from Rockford to Gage Park High School on Chicago’s southside, and is available to her students until 6 p.m. on some days.
She also says the formula for success is simple: raise expectations and with guidance and support, students will meet the challenge.
Congratulations to Octavia Sansing-Rhodes of Chicago’s Herzl Elementary School on the city’s west side. As a child, she says didn’t get math, but as an adult she’s having tremendous success in helping her students get it. She became a teacher because she “wanted to make a difference… and bring a different approach to teaching,” and she doesn’t give up on her students. According to one student, Charlisha Harris, since Sansing-Rhodes started teaching the low-scoring class a year ago, “mostly everybody… meets or exceeds the standard in math.” Sansing-Rhodes says she will use the check she received from Saint Xavier University on creative supplies to engage her math students in the learning process.
Congratulations to Patricia Lamar of the Delta Learning Center in south suburban Robbins, which is an alternative school for students who have difficulty in traditional schools. As a science teacher, she uses creative ways to grab their attention and keep her students interested. Lamar sees her students as very important to her and tries to meet them on their level. Lamar says, “I just try and diffuse the situation if their attitude is getting in the way of them learning what I’m trying to teach them. I try to take care of whatever is going on first, because I know until they can calm down, they can’t learn.” Her students appreciate her efforts. One student says, “If it wasn’t the time she was willing to spend with me after school… I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be graduating this year.” Lamar says she is going to use the check from St Xavier University to make a down payment on an outdoor therapeutic classroom she and a co-worker are developing on the grounds of the school.
Congratulations to Cynthia Roder of Portage Park Elementary School, who is December’s Teacher of the Month. In honor of her achievements, Roder received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.
Roder is a special education teacher to first graders. She currently has 16 very special students in her first grade class. “I just want to bring out the best in all my students, no matter where their level is,” says Roder. “I take what they can do rather than what they can't do and we take it from there. … I am just passionate about what I do. It gives me pleasure to see the growth.”
Congratulations to Jack Matsumoto of Edison Gifted Center in Chicago, who is November's Teacher of the Month. In honor of his achievements, Low received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.
A jack-of-all-trades, Matsumoto has been teaching for 33 years, and he currently teaches American Literature, Writing, Math and Physical Science to 7th and 8th graders. “We get kids that love to learn. They love learning new things, doing new things,” Matsumoto said. “I try to relate it to them. I try to bring what we read in literature class and what we do in science and have them apply it to what they are doing and seeing and thinking about.”
Congratulations to Michael Low of Little Village Lawndale High School, who is October's Teacher of the Month. In honor of his achievements, Low received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.
Low teaches English literature and Japanese, a subject many students have showed strong interest in learning. “For me, if you’re truly interested in something, it’s hard not to get excited about it,” Low said. “And I am very interested in what I teach. It’s utterly fascinating. [The students] have no idea how much there is to know and how little they actually know about the world.”
Congratulations to Norma Gutierrez of Noble Street College Prep, who is September's Teacher of the Month. In honor of her achievements, Ms. Gutierrez received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.
Ms. Gutierrez—or Ms. G as her students call her—teaches at Noble Street College Prep as a math teacher, though her lessons go beyond adding and subtracting. Ms. G's students describe her as motherly, patient, there when you need help, never doubtful, easy to talk to and open to questions. She has shown her students over and over again that she is in their corner, even if it doesn’t have to deal with math.