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Rebecca
Lynn Mieliwocki

Teacher of the Year 2012 - California

1

Good teachers are seekers.

We are on constant watch for signs from our students. We need to know who they are, what they like, how they learn best, when they understand, and when they don’t. We need to see when they are happy and when they are hurting, so that we can celebrate with them and help them when they struggle. We need to seek the best tools and resources to do the hard work of teaching. Our finds must be effective, relevant, and successful.  More seeking. Finally, we must constantly seek to improve ourselves in our craft.  Every day spent in the service of educating another human being is an opportunity: 1) to get better at what I do, 2) to strengthen the lives of the children I teach, and 3) to change the world we all live in for the better. We are seekers, one and all.

2

Make every single day an adventure.

Every day is a page in your book, and we don’t know in advance if this page will hold the big surprise, gut-wrenching sadness, a death, or a great joy. We just don’t know. What I do know is that I can greet each day with openness, excitement, positivity, and possibility.  You don’t know if today is just another day or your last one on Earth. My dad says, “there’s always an excuse to celebrate” because in truth, he shouldn’t be here. He was abused as a child, he served in the Army, and then had a heart attack at 58 that stopped his heart. He shouldn’t be here. But he is. And he refuses to live in fear, or sadness, or inaction. Instead, he is even more determined to live out every minute as fully as possible and to find the joy in every day. That is a great lesson to me, as someone who’s had nothing of that kind of struggle and probably never will.

3

Meet people where they’re at.

I have clarity about what I must do in the classroom. I know my subject matter, the standards for learning, and what achievement levels I’m obligated to help my students attain. To do that well, though, I also have a responsibility to find out where my students are academically, what they love personally, and where they see themselves eventually. When I take that walk toward my students, I greet them right where they are. I show them that I, too, am a constant learner and my most important subject at that moment is them. I reach out a hand and ask them to come with me from where they stand today to where I know they are capable of going tomorrow. This is the ultimate act of respect a teacher can show a student. They matter. What they know now is relevant. What you love, I too will love. Let’s go together and work toward the next best version of you.

4

Grow. Get Better. Evolve.

No one is a finished product, so I try to learn something new everyday. I try to make sure to do something scary as often as possible and often say yes to ridiculous challenges. I don’t do this because I’m a risk taker. I do this because if I stay in my comfort zone the sum of my life will be that I got really good at what I could already do. However, I will have never tapped into my potential. When you work with students, you are constantly compelling them to stay open, to try new things, to accept ambiguity, and to dwell in possibility on their path to wisdom. I have to walk that walk before I can ask my students to follow me.

5

Children need positive adult role models, relationships, & guidance MORE than ever.

One thing I know for sure is that today’s child doesn’t have enough stable, positive, adult role models. They are surrounded by people who don’t have their best interests at heart. They are flooded with media messages that are quite honestly dangerous to our young people. Too many don’t have parents who are invested in teaching them virtues like hard work, honesty, integrity, and kindness. So, as I’m teaching them English, I will stop class to handle situations that require character building. They learn far more than English from me. They can count on me, with my classroom being a safe, stable spot for them. I also demand that they be people of character and value. I help them learn how to communicate clearly and fairly, how to leave their minds and hearts open to information, experiences, and others. I teach them how to apologize and talk them through the hurts and struggles they face. We negotiate and discuss and endeavor to understand all the issues they face. I’m not there to tell them what to think or to be the lady with all the right answers. I’m there to help illuminate all the possible ways they can go forward with their lives in a positive, productive way that gives them the self-esteem and smarts they need to be good citizens. I wish more parents were at home helping me do this. I wish more community members cared about this. I wish the people who make money off of children cared about their development like I do. It would go a long way toward strengthening our county and securing its future.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.

Biography

I didn’t start out to become a teacher. If anything, I ran in a completely different direction in college and studied to become a lawyer. Why? Because when you’re 18, you either want to be exactly like your parents or just the opposite. As the daughter of two wonderful, 30-year-veteran public school teachers, I tried at first to go the opposite route and blaze my own trail. Sure, I experimented with two or three other careers–and I was good at them and enjoyed them- but none of them fed my soul. However, life has a funny and ironic way of working out.  I soon realized that as the daughter of two great teachers, I wasn’t content being anything else but a teacher. It’s in my blood, part of my DNA, and there was simply no denying it. Much to my parents’ delight, and now mine, I planted my feet firmly and happily in the classroom, a place I belong more than anywhere else.

If you cut me open and studied my rings like a tree, you’d find out that inside I’m a 12-year-old goofball dying to get out. While I am always a consummate professional, there’s nothing in the playbook that says teachers need to be stuffy or staid or that learning has to be dry and dull. Anyone who’s spent time with me knows that I find any excuse to be creative, to giggle, or to squeeze joy out of every moment. Life is too short and too difficult to have anything less than the most engaged, enthusiastic, teachers while in school. Who better to teach 12 year olds, then, than someone who understands them for exactly who they are and celebrates their weird, wild, wonderfulness?

If I accomplish anything with my students, I am proud to say it’s that when they leave my classroom, they are better people than when they walked through my door. They are children who know that they are important and that a great future lies ahead of them if they are willing to match their talents with effort and creativity. They know that learning is exciting and strong communication skills will help them make the most of their lives. They leave able to write clearly and compellingly about what they believe. They know life will throw them many curveballs, but they have all the tools they need to handle them. They leave loving to read and knowing that the great mysteries of life can be answered through close and careful study of the written word. They begin to make adventures of their own lives. Every year, I’m saddened to see each group go, but I know they go as better humans. That I have a small part in this process makes me very, very proud.

Rebecca Mieliwocki is a 7th grade English teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School, which houses 1100 students in grades 6-8. She has been teaching for 14 years and has spent 9 years in her current position. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication from California Polytechnic State University and her professional clear credential in Secondary English Education from California State University Northridge. She is the 2005 California League of Middle Schools Educator of the Year for Southern California, a 2009 PTA Honorary Service Award Winner, and a BTSA mentor, and has also served as a teacher expert for CSUN College of Education Panel titled "The ABC's of IEPs."