Tales of hilarity, hardship, self-discovery and time in the spotlight were shared Tuesday by Rebecca Mieliwocki, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year, with a crowd of mostly Kent State University education majors.
More than 150 people turned out at the Kiva in the Kent Student Center to hear the advice of Mieliwocki, a seventh-grade English teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank, Calif. who recently was recognized by President Barack Obama for her success at motivating and connecting with her students.
"I'm the perfect person to inspire you to go into this profession because I'm going to tell the truth about it," Mieliwocki said. "You are putting all of your skill and knowledge and wisdom out there so that your students can develop theirs, and just when you start to feel really good about it, the fire alarm goes off, or a dog runs into the room, or a student barfs, triggering three others to barf in sympathy."
Mieliwocki's speech focused on the glory and difficulties of devoting a life to educating youth, comparing it to whitewater rafting as "moments of celebration followed by near death encounters." She repeatedly reinforced the theme that the career is incredibly demanding but highly rewarding for those who put their all into it.
Winning "National Teacher of the Year" gave Mieliwocki the opportunity to meet President Obama and travel to the best schools in Russia, China, Japan and Singapore, finding out how they work and why America is falling behind in academic ratings.
Singapore had the best practices, she said, with the highest standards, training and pay for teachers.
They recruit the best and brightest out of college, are flexible with utilizing the teaching force and evaluate teachers on multiple measures of effectiveness, with a one-year probation period for low-rated teachers to improve or get cut, aided by peers to help them succeed, she said.
Mieliwocki said that the U.S. is getting there, which takes time, effort and passion, but she's never waited for change. Instead, she brings it about herself, she said.
"If the cavalry were going to ride in and save American education, it would have come already. It's not coming, and I am happy to do that work," she said, encouraging future educators to not standby and wait for the world to change for them.
At the beginning of the speech, before she discussed her travels and methods to turnaround the toughest students, Mieliwocki said her title of "National Teacher of the Year" couldn't exist.
"There is no one best teacher in the United States of America," she said. "There are so many more great teachers out there who do the work that I do, and many do it better."
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