A+ teachers innovate, inspire, communicate

Liz Barlock is a kindergarten teacher at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette who is committed to a progressive philosophy of learning through “play.” An entry on her blog shares, “We continue to discuss the Human Body and observe where the children are going to take this study. We created science journals for each child to document their ideas and questions…and listed and drew what we think we know already.” In this unit, and throughout the year, Barlock ensures understanding through query and exploration-a practice she pursues in her own professional development as she takes on leadership roles within the school, engages in dialogue with colleagues, and presents findings at conferences throughout the country.

We call teachers like Ms. Barlock “A+ Teachers” and Chicagoland is filled with them. From kindergarten teachers to educational department heads and athletic directors, our schools have teachers that are always looking for new ways to engage our students in learning opportunities and who are making a difference in the lives of children of all ages. So, what makes an “A+ Teacher”? Here are some of the common traits they each possess along with stories of some local “A+ Teachers” nominated by their colleagues:

Inspire Lifelong Learners

Ann Rundio has been teaching at Luther North College Prep in Chicago for forty-two years. Throughout those years, Rundio’s teaching has been instrumental in preparing students for college and careers. Students from every walk of life have returned to Luther North over the last four decades attributing their academic and professional successes to Rundio’s expertise in teaching them how to write well. She is known for insisting that students give their best effort and for pushing them beyond their own expectations to meet her high expectations for them. Chicago radio personality Nick Digilio makes frequent on-air references to the impact Rundio’s teaching had on him.

Make Learning Fun

Sr. Katie Mitchell loves yellow. Her classroom is filled with yellow on all sides; you almost need sunglasses to be in her room. Her favorite pillow is one shaped like the sun. This is a classroom that is bright, colorful, and exciting for all the second graders at Pope John XXIII in Evanston. Her sunny disposition, warmth, and positive attitude contribute to the caring and up-beat environment in this classroom. Everywhere you look are student projects hanging from wires and displayed on bulletin boards. This is indeed the “home” of these seven and eight year olds. It is a place for safe, interesting, and exciting learning. Sr. Katie creates this atmosphere so all her students enjoy learning.

As a second grade teacher at Holy Cross School in Chicago, Stacy Brehm approaches teaching very creatively and through hands on experiences, like her use of classroom economy. Her students are learning lifelong skills such as budgeting money, responsibility, and generosity. Much like the real world, they receive a paycheck for completing homework and doing jobs around the classroom. Each week they pay rent and pay fines for breaking rules. Lunches with the teacher or keeping a stuffed animal at their desk are a few things they can purchase with discretionary income. The charity jar, to finance hardship cases, is filled by many practicing the virtue of helping those less fortunate.

Think Outside the Classroom

When Cammy Czarnik came to the faculty of The Willows Academy in Des Plaines in 2007 she brought with her a vibrant passion for learning. In the short years she has been at The Willows, Czarnik has brought a new spirit to The Willows…in the History Department, in the Fine Arts, in the Student Council, in technological innovation in the classroom, in the spirit of the faculty team. As a young educator, Czarnik possesses a keen sense of the education of the whole child. She understands that learning is not a passive activity, nor is it one that is restricted to a classroom. As History Department Head, Czarnik has a keen understanding of learning as a process. When assigning classes, Czarnik clearly articulated the importance of teaching lower level classes in addition to the AP level classes so all teachers are involved in the development of students who can learn history well. She keeps abreast of current technological trends and pursues the nuances of the limited technology available to her. Outside of the classroom, Czarnik continues her commitment to her students as moderator of Student Council and supervises the performing arts stage crews.

Communicate with Parents

Amy Jacobs is a creative, innovative educator who has taught eight courses for Center for Talent Development’s Saturday Enrichment Program (SEP), including Entomology& Mini-Mammals, Far East Adventures and Illuminating Light. Parents agree that she always goes above and beyond their expectations. She is accessible and regularly communicates with parents about what their children are learning and how parents can continue to support their children’s learning at home. Further, they report that her strategies and activities are a perfect fit for the children with whom she works.

Focus on the Individual

Amy Salzman is a third grade teacher at Chicago Jewish Day School where they believe in educating the whole child and that healthy emotional growth enhances academic achievement. Salzman believes in this mission and vision and demonstrates this in her teaching. A skilled and thoughtful teacher, she is very well organized and knows her students’ strengths and challenges. She also possesses great humility, a quality that we often don’t find in today’s leaders, and is a valued colleague that can be counted on for help or assistance whether it is collaborating in a curricular area or simply changing a duty schedule.

Help Children Reach Full Potential

Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale will soon celebrate its 30th anniversary, and so too will one staff member – Gregory “Coach” Douglas. Douglas is a faculty member and athletic director at Brehm Preparatory School. He was hired when the school first opened in 1982 and has not left since. His passion for helping students, both boys and girls grades 6-12 with complex learning disabilities, achieve their fullest potential is inspiring to not only the students, but also their family members, the staff and faculty at Brehm and the community as a whole.

With seventeen years of experience teaching at the Early Childhood levels from Preschool through First grade at Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights, Debra Fisher reaches each child in her classroom with ease through her differentiated instruction approach. Using best practice and research-based teaching practices, Fisher gives each child the confidence to look inside themselves and see their own true potential. Her warmth and caring is evident in everything she does.

Mrs. Joji Escanilla of Skokie Montessori is dedicated to not only helping every child in her class succeed academically, but she strives to help student’s discover their own potential. She believes every child is capable if directed and guided to the right path and she sets a high standard in all levels of the school-from toddler to primary. The students are gaining and receiving a solid foundation in learning and discipline under her leadership.

We commend all of these teachers for inspiring our students in and out of the classroom-for giving of their time and talents to ensure that every child that walks through their classroom will have an opportunity to find a lifelong love of learning.

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