Seven suburban educators to celebrate during Teacher Appreciation Week
Remember that teacher who became a role model and helped you think for yourself? Or the one who built your child's confidence and helped them find their calling?
Teacher Appreciation Week, which began Monday, is a time to say thank you to the people who create community in schools, though educators deserve admiration and recognition no matter what the calendar says.
This year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's more important than ever to recognize their many contributions to our families, our towns and our lives.
With that in mind, we're taking a quick look back at seven educators we've profiled this school year in our "Top Teacher" series to once again celebrate their excellence and say "thank you."
Whether it's bouncing a basketball to demonstrate syncopation or awarding karate belts of different colors as students advance in skill, Lisa Hatfield has developed a plethora of techniques to educate and motivate her elementary band ensemble.
That unique teaching style -- not to mention her spirit, positivity and sense of humor -- make her a "perfect match for fifth grade," says Hatfield, a band teacher in Batavia Unit District 101 for 14 years.
She loves watching students' faces light up as they open their instrument cases for the first time. She's overjoyed when they learn a note or nail a new song in the book.
But there's more to Hatfield's position than advancing musical skills. "As long as every kid walks out of my classroom just adoring music," she says, "I've done my job."
Kateri Gullifor, who works with students with visual impairments, was named 2019 Teacher of the Year by the Braille Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to eliminate barriers to a fulfilling life caused by blindness and severe sight loss. Gullifor has been a vision itinerant with Huntley Community School District 158 since 2013.
- Rick West | Staff Photographer, November 2019
Kateri Gullifor was named the 2019 Teacher of the Year by the Braille Institute in recognition of her work with Huntley Community School District 158 students who are visually impaired.
"She works tirelessly, showing love and dedication to her students, who thrive under her guidance," Braille Institute President Peter Mindnich said.
Gullifor supports students in their regular classrooms and one-on-one with technology, tactile images and Braille.
"That's the part I love the best -- everyone has unique needs, unique challenges, and I have to problem-solve how to meet those needs," she said.
Place values. The arrow way. An open number line. The chip model.
Math specialist Lynn Pittner has plenty of methods for helping young students develop a conceptual understanding of the subject. It's not about memorizing a standard algorithm, she says, but about teaching them to observe, estimate and find solutions to real-life problems using the strategies that work best for them.
Pittner has worked at Davis Primary School in St. Charles for nearly six years, instilling a love of math in not only her kindergartners through second-graders, but also parents, colleagues and administrators. Set to retire at the end of this academic year, Pittner has left her mark through her wealth of knowledge, unique teaching style, enthusiasm for the subject and compassion for her students.
"In our building, we don't just do math," Pittner says. "We're mathematicians."
Exploration, appreciation, learning and discovery all have a special place in the classroom of Kim Sceggel at Covenant Classical School in Naperville.
Sceggel works with second-graders in the school's grammar phase, following a method that focuses on teaching students how to think, question and write, while giving them a broad base of knowledge about the history and geography of the world.
With big topics like the history of Greece and Rome on the docket, Sceggel finds ways to foster her students' natural curiosity so they can begin to grasp their place in the world.
She lets students "observe and discover" so they can learn how to think for themselves.
"As much as I can," she said, "I try to have them discover things rather than me telling them stuff."
Jen Leban, a creative technology teacher, works with sixth-grade students Margaret Pas and Abby Hudson at Sandburg Middle School in Elmhurst.
- Daily Herald file photo/October 2019
Jen Leban, a creative technology teacher in Elmhurst Unit District 205, was recognized last fall as one of 10 finalists for the 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year Award from the Illinois State Board of Education.
It wasn't that long ago, Leban admits, that she was feeling burned out as a middle school art teacher. But the chance to tackle the technology post changed all that.
"The fact that technology is always changing energizes me," she said. It's also an excellent way to make teaching stimulating, for both her and her students.
"When I want to learn something new, I throw it at them and they give me ideas," Leban said. "You can't wait to become an expert to teach. It's like we're learning together."
Joanna Angelopoulos has a passion for art and what it represents in the big picture, and that passion rubs off on her students in kindergarten through sixth grade at Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine.
In a world full of technology and an emphasis on science, mathematics and engineering, the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 teacher says art affords students a space to think beyond numbers and computers.
"We analyze," Angelopoulos said. "We interpret. We use critical thinking skills. We develop problem-solving skills. We collaborate.
"We learn how to be empathetic to people who have other ideas. We listen to each other. We talk about things. We use our hands. When was the last time some student said, 'Hey, I put my hands in some clay and I loved it'?"
Andrew Conneen's influence on civics education reaches far beyond his classroom at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.
Conneen helped craft the 2013 state law that allows 17-year-olds who turn 18 before a November general election to vote in the preceding primary.
"It was the best civics lesson that I've ever been part of," Conneen said.
His students have developed a lifelong interest in civics by holding campaign fairs, serving as election judges, participating in early-voting drives and moderating candidate debates. In February, Conneen took a group of teens to the Iowa caucuses.
"Learning about civics is learning how to advocate in life," he said.
• Daily Herald staff writers Madhu Krishnamurthy, Russell Lissau, Lauren Rohr, Bob Susnjara and Marie Wilson and correspondent Julia Locanto contributed to this report.