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posted: 7/9/2013 8:00 AM

Top teachers prove value, over and over

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

When the Daily Herald debuted "The Suburbs' Top Teachers" in December, the headline on our feature about Ryan Brown read, "He's all about the kids."

Little did we know the same headline would apply over and over again, each month, to different teachers -- who teach different subjects to different students, and have different passions.

It turns out that whatever the subject, the students' ages or the teacher's own background, one common element of a great teacher is they never forget who rules.

Or, as Brown says, you're teaching students, not material. "If you're not having fun, they're not having fun," he warns.

"The Suburbs' Best Teachers" runs the second Monday of every month in the Neighbor section. The profiled teachers work in public and private schools, at all grade levels or specialties. Many of them have been nominated by our readers.

Through our profiles, you have met a high school English teacher and gymnastics coach; a teacher of students with disabilities; a high school teacher who maintains a memorial garden for two graduates who died in combat; an elementary art teacher whose students also learn videomaking, filmwriting, tweeting, blogging, uploading, singing, acting, graphic design and animation; a history teacher whose interactive classes resemble "The McLaughlin Group"; and more.

With each feature, we ask these master teachers to give us a few tips, to share what has worked for them over years of practice. In reality, the tips act as a mirror and reveal much about how these teachers feel about their calling, and their approach to their students.

"Seize the moment," Geneva High School art teacher Al Ochsner advises. "High school is such an important, fleeting time. So much happens. These young adults are literally a few steps away from running the show."

"Keep your beginner's spirit," adds Michael Jelinek, a Navy veteran and a history teacher at Naperville North High School. "Remind yourself you don't know everything. ... Continually engage in self-reflection and enthusiastically find ways to improve instruction."

Tricia Fuglestad, who teaches elementary art in Arlington Heights, collects "tricks" for classroom management -- signals, snaps, a call and response, a whisper. "You don't want to run out of ways to keep students focused," she says. And when you find them, she adds, "share them!"

To read these features each month is to know that teachers matter. The best of them believe school is a two-way street, that students should work hard but also demand the best.

For the eight teachers we have profiled so far, there are hundreds more who shine equally bright. We want to know who in your life has been a master teacher. Email us at and tell us about an active teacher you consider great, and why. We might just profile them in a future edition.

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