by Lesia Winiarskyj, for the Connecticut Education Association
2019 TOY finalists and semifinalists gather with CEA leaders. Pictured left to right are Robert Rose (Glastonbury), Leanne Maguire (Torrington), Gregory Amter (Hamden), CEA President Jeff Leake, Jennifer Freese (Newington), Sheena Graham (Bridgeport), Ryley Zawodniak (Mansfield), CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas, Jessica Harris (Wallingford), Camille Spaulding (Spaulding), Kelly Shea (Manchester), Sean Maloney (Brooklyn), Ellen Meyer (Danbury), John Cote (Lebanon), Penny Zhitomi (Shelton), and Jessica Papp (Canton). Not pictured is Barbara Johnson (Colchester).
For 2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year (TOY) Sheena Graham, making personal connections with the young people in her classroom is all in a day’s work—and one of the things that has endeared her to generations of students. Those meaningful, enduring connections are among the common threads that bind this year’s TOY finalists together. While they all came to teaching in different ways, with unique points of inspiration, each shares a strong penchant for building positive relationships with students, showing children that they matter not only as learners but as human beings.
Sheena Graham reflects on what, and who, inspired her to be a teacher and a lifelong learner.
At a December 5 ceremony at The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts honoring Graham and more than 100 district-level teachers of the year—including 11 state semifinalists and three finalists—teachers from Bridgeport to Mansfield received high accolades for delivering on the promise of an outstanding education for all students, but also, on a more personal level, caring about their students as individuals.
2013 Connecticut TOY Blaise Messinger, the evening’s emcee, thanked teachers for creating classrooms that send a clear message: “This is a place of inclusion, of learning, of safety. This is a place of hope.” Like many of the evening’s speakers who credited their own teachers with making a major impact on their lives, the Cromwell teacher noted, “I can draw a straight line from one certain teacher to where I stand now, on this stage.” Addressing the honorees in the crowd, he said, “You are that teacher for someone. You are that teacher who will be remembered.”
Personal connections “I am so proud to be here on a night that honors our Connecticut teachers, not only those who have distinguished themselves as teachers of the year, but all the many thousands across the state who work hard every day to build bridges, make meaningful connections, and educate the whole child,” said CEA President Jeff Leake.
TOY Finalist Ryley Zawodniak, a fifth-grade teacher at Mansfield Middle School, has made that her mission throughout her career.
“As a language arts teacher,” she says, “I have a window into students’ lives—their triumphs and struggles—as they write about what’s most important to them. I see that as a gift as well as a responsibility. Yes, I am responsible for covering content, but first and foremost, I am responsible for knowing each of my students and forging a connection with them—not only to discover new avenues to motivate and challenge them but also to help them feel safe, heard, and understood.”
Zawodniak points to a defining moment in her days as a student that shaped the teacher she is today. “I didn’t know it then,” she said, “but it would later push me to make meaningful contributions in education.” She recalls the December day in 1985 when classmate Louis Cartier came to her New Hampshire high school with a shotgun. “This was pre-Columbine, pre-cellphones, pre-intruder drills. My experience as a student that day, which ended in Louis being shot and killed by a police officer, resonated with me over the years, after I became a teacher.” She remembers Cartier as a bullied student who had dropped out of school and ultimately reached a breaking point.
“Consequently, one contribution I make in education is to see students first as people. Their social and emotional needs are of the utmost importance to me, and I seek to support all learners. Louis Cartier taught me that lesson.”
Parents have commended Zawodniak for “tapping into each child in a unique and personal way,” and students say she makes them feel “like one big family, where every voice is heard.”
Like Zawodniak, fellow finalist Jennifer Freese, a science teacher at Martin Kellogg Middle School in Newington and a CEA member since 2006, is a firm believer in the importance of supporting students’ social-emotional well-being to help them cope with conflict and stress.
“My students keep me going every single day,” she says.
Mobile apps have become “must have” classroom tools, and students are naturally drawn to their interactivity. Whether you’re looking for an app to help with classroom management, exploring different languages, or figuring out tricky geometry problems, there’s an app for anything and everything.
With hundreds of thouands of apps out there, finding the right ones to use can be a challenge. To help you navigate the waters, NEA Member Benefits asked your fellow NEA members for information about apps they find useful in their classrooms. Below are their picks along with some helpful advice.
Don’t miss Educators Appreciation Day at Mystic Seaport Museum on October 20! CEA members and their families (up to four people total with teacher ID) will receive free Mystic Seaport Museum admission.
Don’t miss this special opportunity to explore the museum and learn more about the seaport’s educational programs and classroom connections. Education Department staff will be on hand to discuss program offerings and answer questions. In addition to the museum’s regular activities, there will be a special agenda of activities just for educators and their families.
The first years in a classroom are some of the most exciting and memorable in a teacher’s career—as well as the most challenging.
CEA invites new teachers to gather insights and advice at our annual conference for early-career educators. Participants may choose from 10 timely workshops to help hone their skills—from creating a culturally responsive classroom to managing behavior and acing their evaluation.
The half-day conference is free and includes continental breakfast and lunch.
The Connecticut Education Association today released its first-ever Legislator Report Card that evaluates legislative candidates’ overall support for issues important to students, teachers, and public education. CEA’s new report card recognizes legislators who are committed to giving students more opportunities for success and are working hard to improve public education and the teaching profession in Connecticut.
The report card evaluates legislators’ voting records, as well as their advocacy and efforts to advance CEA priorities over the past two-year legislative cycle. These priorities include funding public education, preserving collective bargaining, enhancing the teaching profession, protecting the pension system, keeping schools safe, upholding teacher certification standards, and supporting sound education policy.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to public education and teachers’ rights, many legislators took actions in the wrong direction and earned less-than-stellar grades,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “This new report card system is transparent and holds candidates accountable. It informs our members of the candidates’ positions on key issues and highlights those who want to help our students and teachers, and those who are doing harm to them.”
“In the aftermath of teacher demonstrations across the country, there has been a renewed interest in the political process and its direct effect on public education, students, and teachers,” said CEA Executive Director Donald Williams. “Our members are becoming more active—they are using their voice and their vote to make sure the concerns of teachers and students are heard.”
The candidates for all 187 Connecticut General Assembly seats as well as legislators running for another office, receive a grade based on a number of factors. For incumbents seeking reelection, the report card is based on the following:
Voting record on bills that advance or hurt CEA education priorities, and support for students, local schools, and teacher rights
Co-sponsorship of bills critical to advancing CEA’s identified legislative priorities
Advocacy on behalf of or against CEA positions in public hearings, on the chamber floor, in the press, and among peers in the legislative environment
Responsiveness to requests to meet with CEA members and staff
For all candidates, including those without a state legislative history, answers to candidate questionnaires and interview results were included in the report card.
Additionally, significant emphasis is placed on a candidate’s actions involving the rights of teachers to have a voice in the education of their students, the working and learning conditions of their school, and the ability to bargain for fair wages and benefits.
When it comes to summer, reading may not be the first thing—or even in the top ten things—kids have in mind! But reading can be the ideal summer activity. It’s fun, portable, can involve the whole family, and will help children academically.
These resources can help you put good books into kids’ hands and connect them to vibrant summer learning adventures.