2016-2017 Academic Year Winners
Below are the winners for Teacher of the Month for the current academic year. To view the videos of the winners visit the SXU and WGN-TV's Teacher of the Month playlist on our YouTube channel.
Mike Moehlman has grown the music department at Niles North High School where he directs three concert bands, a percussion ensemble and a jazz ensemble in addition to other bands.
Student Jessica Christiansen nominated Moehlman for Teacher of the Month after he orchestrated a birthday surprise for her.
"They surprised me by singing happy birthday to me. It was such a great thing, you know. Because I had no clue that like so many people cared about me. But he really makes me realize that people out there really do care."
Moehlman creates a comfortable, friendly environment that makes the class feel more like a community. He said, "I want to make sure the students here feel safe, feel happy and feel able to contribute."
What his students truly appreciate is his passion and enthusiasm. "I know that without the real passion that Mr. Moehlman teaches with, I would not be as passionate about percussion as I am," said student Juliana Tichota.
Moehlman was shocked to receive this honor. "I was blown away," he said. "I had totally no expectation or idea that this was going to be coming."
As math teacher, Steven McIIrath, "Mr. Mac" as the students refer to him, has gone beyond the textbook and taught students how to believe in themselves again.
Dijinae Leverston, one of the six nominating students, said, "He tells me every day, 'You're good. Slow down. You're more than enough.' And that motivates me to keep going. I never thought a teacher would think that I matter."
The main thing that his students admire is his dedication to them as individuals. Another nominating student, Monifah Johnson, said, "Math is my weakest subject but he never gave up on me. He's the only teacher that didn't. He kept pushing me forward."
"I think anytime you learn something that you didn't previously know, that's fun! It feels good!" said Mr. Mac. "What doesn't feel good is to come up against things that you don't know how to do and to stay stuck."
Mr. Mac has also gone beyond his duties when teaching an AP Calculus summer course that went uncompensated. Yet, he insists that he was compensated through the act of teaching, saying "I feel good teaching almost every single day, and that is the biggest prize!"
"My favorite thing is being excited about this and seeing their eyes light up over some fact they didn't know about the solar system. They say 'Really?' and I love it; I feed off of that," said Tyler Michie, who finds fulfillment in sharing his excitement with today's youth.
His excitement and enthusiasm for the sciences is passed down to his students who have gained a new passion for learning.
"He is one of the first teachers that I've had where I have actually wanted to get up in the morning and go to his class," said student Hannah Janovsky, the student who nominated Michie. "He is just one of those kind of teachers you just can't forget."
After receiving the news of this honor, Michie said, "I was speechless! It was a wonderful surprise, and I've been trying to wrap my head around it ever since. It's been awesome!"
As a teacher of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, Elizabeth Stefanic encourages critical thinking among all her students.
Stefanic relies on student participation and feedback to figure out what works for each individual class in order to make sure each group of students is taught in a unique and effective way. She wants her classes to enjoy learning and do it in a way that makes sense to them, allowing them to choose what types of activities they do to make the learning environment their own.
Nominating student Giavanna Javan says her teacher is always trying to encourage personal growth and she praises Stefanic for her clear goal of bettering not only her students, but also herself. If a student requires extra help, she never fails to give them the attention and assistance they deserve.
Being able to connect with people and sharing a common experience is what draws choir teacher Kelsey Tortorice to the classroom. She enjoys seeing her students grow and find enthusiasm in singing throughout their high school years.
Tortorice's compassion and desire to teach is clearly appreciated by her students. "She's just amazing," Nia Jordan, the student who nominated Tortorice, says. "She teaches with so much joy and so much happiness."
When he was a high school student, Joshua Dodge was inspired by his agriculture teacher to enter a career in the field. Now a teacher himself with a specialty in horticulture and landscaping, he hopes to be a similar source of inspiration for his students.
"The students take a lot of pride in watching something grow from beginning to end," says Dodge.
Though a greenhouse is a somewhat untraditional classroom setting, students gain a wide variety of experience and have exposure to a lot of unique natural resources. They also get to hold an annual spring sale with the foods they grow and nurture.
Nominating student Patrick Murray appreciates his teacher's sensitive approach to student learning to ensure that everyone gets the individualized education they deserve. It is this kind of teaching that Saint Xavier University aims to honor.
Martin Puc believes he has found his calling as a reading and language arts teacher. His passion for student learning is visible and his lesson plans, which incorporate both traditional and creative methods of teaching material, are truly one-of-a-kind.
One particular activity that makes Puc's classroom unique is his way of tackling student's common anxiety over public speaking. "Speech wars" involve students presenting with teams in a rap battle fashion to simultaneously provide comfort of companionship while also making students step a bit outside of their comfort zones.
The introduction of speech wars isn't the only thing that students enjoy about Puc's teaching style. Alexis Juveland, the student who nominated Puc, attributes her improved writing skills and better understanding of English and reading concepts to his commitment to teaching. "I really wanted him to have this award because he's not like any other teacher I've met before," she says.
Amy Wood's main focus may be academics, but it is her kindhearted nature and overall creativity in her lesson plans that makes her stand out the most to her second grade students.
As Jane Lundin, director of School Partnerships for SXU, points out: "Teachers can teach content, but it's more important that they be able to teach, interact and relate to children." Wood's success in this is just one of the many reasons why students appreciate her and why student Enzo Fry nominated her for Teacher of the Month recognition.
Wood's sunny personality and fun teaching style -- which involves singing, unique learning activities and repeating a daily mantra about self worth -- helps students enjoy coming to school. This atmosphere also ensures that they each know their abilities and significance as individuals, as well as the importance of caring for others.
"We talk a lot about acceptance and tolerance and empathy," says Wood about the family-like culture of her classroom. "I think all those things put together makes it a safe place to learn."
With 33 years of teaching experience, Richard Martin makes it his priority to engage his students in things that interest them. He says, "I love woodworking. I try to find out what projects they would like to build ... I'll do anything to help a student; I want them to succeed."
The graduating senior who submitted Richard Martin's name for Teacher of the Month consideration, Daisy Hernandez, certainly found interest in her projects and says, "I want to come back with all my new experiences and all that I've gained and tell him this is the reason why I am a carpenter, because you were able to teach me that."
Peter Hilton, associate professor at SXU, notes, "Well, what's exciting about this is that, first of all, it's hands on, and second of all, the students are amazingly polite and interactive and thoughtful. Those things are what seems to go on in this room, and that's great!"
A big struggle for Melissa Rose was overcoming the predetermined attitude that children have toward math. She says, "One of the big things with math, is a lot of kids come in with a mindset. And either they say they're good at math or they're bad at math. And I don't believe that for a second. I try to tell them, 'It clicks for different people at different times, and everyone can have a math mind if they want it.'"
One student, Camille Listowski, says that she had a tough time with math before joining Rose's class. "I struggle with math. And she has ways of explaining things or breaking them down just to make them easier for different kids and different [ways] people learn," says Listowski, the student responsible for nominating Rose. "She's wonderful, really."
"I try to show them that I care about them, that I love them and that I respect them, and I hope that shows in everything I do," Rose says. Her dedication has shown through her teaching and has made a phenomenal impact on those students. "It's one thing to be recognized by your colleagues, but when a student goes out of their way to do this, I was beyond moved."