Teacher of the Year: Engagement Key to Student Success

BY April Brown  September 26, 2012 at 11:04 AM EDT

President Barack Obama honors the 2012 Teacher of the Year, Rebecca Mieliwocki, at the White House in April. Courtesy of Council of Chief State School Officers.

Listening to Rebecca Mieliwocki describe what goes on in her 7th-grade English classroom sounds quite a bit like an unconventional talent search.

“We’ll give activities that require debating skills one day, and the next day it’ll be a research skill and the next day it’ll be artistic or musical,” said Mieliwocki, the Council of Chief State School Officers 2012 Teacher of the Year.

The work in Mieliwocki’s classroom at Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank, California is actually designed to discover each child’s aptitudes, so he or she becomes more engaged in the classroom and more likely to learn the required material.

“I think what the best teachers are, are seekers,” she said in an interview with the NewsHour that will air Wednesday. “We are given a family’s child to teach, their most precious resource — their child — and our job is to send them out better than when they walked through the door.”

Her goal is to help each child find their path to success, whether it’s going to college or finding another type of career altogether.

“Our job at the middle level is to identify what is unique about each individual child and provide for them everything they need to really strengthen that talent and set them up for success, whether that be off to college, into a vocation or some sort of technical field or something artistic or in the service industry,” she said.

After 15 years in the classroom, Mieliwocki has come to recognize the importance of a quality education in keeping the United States globally competitive. On a recent tour of schools in China, Mieliwocki took note of how much time additional time students there spent in school. She believes their American counterparts might also benefit from extra time in the classroom.

“We can do a lot with a little amount of time, but we could use more,” she said.

Watch a clip of her speech at the National Education Association convention. (Click here for the full speech):

We’ll hear more from Rebecca Mieliwocki on Wednesday’s NewsHour broadcast.

Don’t miss American Graduate Week on the NewsHour:

American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to address the dropout crisis. Find all of our American Graduate stories here.