Teacher of the Month

2014-2015 Academic Year Winners

Below are the winners from the 2014-2015 academic year for Teacher of the Month. To view the videos of the winners visit theSXU and WGN-TV's Teacher of the Month playlist on our YouTube channel.

September 2014, Diane Harrigan

Congratulations to Diane Harrigan, the choir and music teacher at Sauk Elementary School in Richton Park, for being September's Teacher of the Month.

Ms. Harrigan believes that music is a powerful tool that can help children discover and boost their confidence. Harrigan says, "Sometimes they're coming in with burdens. They're coming in just to relieve the stress of the day, and I know that they have so much untapped potential and it's my job to pull that out of them." She explains how public concerts make students feel good about themselves. In this way, Harrigan has been able help students take what they're learning inside the classroom and translate those positive accomplishments to the outside world.

October 2014, Nakisha Lee

Congratulations to Nakisha Lee, a business education and accounting teacher at Simeon Career Academy in the Chatham neighborhood of Chicago, for being October's Teacher of the Month.

"I have an open door policy," says Lee. "I always hear their needs. I may not always be able to answer all of them, but I try to do my best in leading them in the right direction." She makes sure to relate the material she teaches to real world situations in order to properly prepare her students. Lee was a student at Simeon and took the same class she now teaches and remembers having a teacher that helped her realize her goals and she accredits this to her success. She aims to help her own students in the same way. They clearly recognize her efforts, considering the fact that not one, but nine students entered her name for Teacher of the Month consideration.

November 2014, Dr. Daniel Oswald

Congratulations to Dr. Daniel Oswald, an English and Radio Broadcasting teacher at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, for being November's Teacher of the Month.

As a alumnus, Oswald jumped at the opportunity to return to Glenbrook South after years of teaching as a college professor in Florida when a retiring teacher of his contacted him, asking him to consider being her replacement. "I have the privilege of being able to come back and sort of dip my toes into the energy that is youth," says Oswald. "Being able to work with young people and see their curiosity and see their willingness to try new things is very exciting."

Dr. Oswald's students helps run one of only 190 licensed high school radio stations left in the US. The radio station, WBGK 88.5 FM broadcasts daily. Students learn not only the basics of broadcasting, but also how to set priorities and manage their time wisely. Oswald hopes this will help his students become independent, self-directed individuals.

December 2014, Amy Wagner and Jason Crist

Congratulations to Amy Wagner and Jason Crist, who both work together teaching life skills to special education students at Turning Pointe Career College in Naperville, for being December's Teachers of the Month.

In a unique classroom setting that mimics an apartment, Wagner and Crist co-teach all of their classes as a team. They help post-secondary students affected by autism learn basic housekeeping skills with hands-on instruction, as well how to act and participate in society, socially and vocationally. "Social skills are something that a lot of people with autism really struggle with, so helping them get those social skills helps them to be more involved in the community, make friends, and be a part of their family."

January 2015, Alex Polanco

Congratulations to Alex Polanco, an art teacher at Keller Junior High School in Hoffman Estates, for being January's Teacher of the Month.

Living in a technology-driven world, Polanco encourages his students to give their computers a break and tap into their creative abilities instead, using unique material supplies such as clay to create art. "I consider myself an acoustic art teacher," he says. "I think they need to have those basic skills. They need to know how to use a pencil, they need to know how to work with paint, they need to get their hands dirty with clay."

Having moved to the US from Puerto Rico as a child, Polanco appreciates how art doesn't require as much instruction as other school subjects like language arts or math. No matter what academic level a student is at, they all seem to meet at place where creativity takes over. "It's really cool to see success across the board."

February 2015, Scott Pasek

Congratulations to Scott Pasek, a business teacher at Evergreen Park Community School in Evergreen Park, for being February's Teacher of the Month.

Pasek stresses the importance of knowing about business and personal finance and wants to ensure his students' success both in and out of school. "Everything we teach in our classes is stuff that they are going to use throughout their lives."

March 2015, Shari Hayes

Congratulations to Shari Hayes, an adaptive physical ed instructor at St. Charles North High School in suburban St. Charles, for being March's Teacher of the Month.

Hayes is always thinking of new ways of getting her students to be actively involved in gym class: "For me in adaptive PE I want to make sure that all my kids can participate, and they also get a say in what they're doing, so if they want to play a particular sport or activity, they get a voice. They get to choose." Hayes is able to provide disabled students with the experience of enjoying sports with their classmates. Her innovative technique is what sets Hayes apart because she doesn't see these particular challenges as a problem.

April 2015, Thomas Clark

Congratulations to Thomas Clark, a history teacher at Lake Central High School in suburban St. John, Indiana, for being April's Teacher of the Month.

For 30 years, Thomas Clark has been sharing his passion for history with his high school students. Students in his class experience history not through PowerPoint slides but through invigorating discussions and actual historical props. Russian hats from Afghanistan, war uniforms and various historical artifacts occupy the walls of his classroom -- all of which Clark accumulated over the years and continues to use in his lectures.

His refreshing teaching method and boundless energy account for Clark's substantial fan base at Lake Central High School. "Mr. Clark is not just a teacher -- he's an experience at our high school," says Sarah Bredar, one of Clark's students. "He is not only able to spark everyone's interest in history, but is also able to help them grow as a person." Every day, Clark approaches the subject of history with renewed vigor, and his love for teaching is unmistakable.

May 2015, Maureen Lonergan

Congratulations to Maureen Lonergan, a biology teacher at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, for being May's Teacher of the Month.

Lonergan explains, "It doesn't really feel like a job when you love what you do. Because I love biology and because I love people especially young people who are just figuring out who they are."

Student Tess Russell nominated Ms. Lonergan for the Teacher of the Month. Russell mentioned, "And on top of her teaching skills she is just the best overall person. She is always present at sporting events, concerts, productions. She's always there and just seeing her there and seeing her with such good school spirit and the love of the Ignatius Community. It's just so inspiring."

June 2015, Sharon Ledbetter

Congratulations to Sharon Ledbetter, a language arts teacher at Christian Heritage Academy in suburban Northfield, for being June's Teacher of the Month.

Sharon Ledbetter teaches her students in a way that places a great emphasis on the importance of focusing on the world around them. "I feel that to become a credible thinker and an eloquent writer with a message, we need to look outward."

Ledbetter's lesson plans are rich with issues of the day with a special focus on how to lead a compassionate life and how to make a real difference in the world.

"I take my calling very seriously as a teacher to raise up the next generation," declares Ledbetter. She wants to empower her students to know that their opinions matter and that they can have a credible voice in the world.