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Carol Gager Dunbar Primary School, Tallmadge Special Education Teacher
Carol Gager credits her second grade teacher, Mrs. May, with inspiring her to teach. “She was kind, caring and compassionate about her work as an educator,” she recalls. “My regret is that I never told her how much her enthusiasm inspired me in my own career.” There’s no doubt Mrs. May would be proud of the work Gager accomplishes as a second and third grade special education teacher. Working with exceptional children has its own set of challenges, but Gager isn’t afraid to do what is best for her students. She recalls an incident when a student with autism had an emotional outburst. She is proud of the way she was able to work with him to calm his behaviors and return his focus to learning. Working with special education students is rewarding for her because “every child is so beautifully unique.” She enjoys getting to know each student and modifying her own teaching style to suit individual needs. Gager believes that it is important to challenge children of all ability levels to do their personal best. “I want to balance the child’s success rate with opportunity for growth,” she says. “The child must want to be at school and they must feel success.”
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Michael McDonald St. Sebastian Parish School
Language Arts, Life Science, Health and Religion Teacher Michael McDonald loves the unpredictability of teaching. “I became an educator because it is one of the only professions that you have where you have no idea what will happen on a daily basis,” he says. His willingness to “roll with the punches” serves him well at St. Sebastian’s, where he teaches several subject areas to sixth grade students. McDonald challenges students in a variety of ways through creative assignments like the Four New Faces of Mt. Rushmore project and the Microscope collage. He builds confidence in his students by asking them to move beyond what they already know into new skill sets. He was proudest of his students when they were able to work together with a classmate who had Down syndrome. The class as a whole rallied around this exceptional student and let him know that he was accepted, loved and protected by his peers. “That year taught me the power of a sixth grade friendship and the maturity that sixth graders are able to achieve,” he says. His main goal is to prepare students for life outside the classroom and develop well-rounded students who are lifelong learners. “My biggest struggle in the classroom is to make my students understand that the classroom extends beyond the school walls.”
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Marcia Adelman Our Lady of the Elms School Preschool Teacher
Marcia Adelman came to education as a second career, after working as an Executive Secretary for 25 years. Now that she works with preschool students at Our Lady of the Elms, she can’t imagine doing anything else. Although her students are young, she tries to instill a sense of civic responsibility in them by encouraging them to do good deeds. She asks parents to let her know when children have done the right thing at home, and she makes a point of rewarding students in front of their peers for their positive actions. “I then give them a special prize,” she says. “Not only does it encourage them to continue with the good deeds, it also encourages the other children to do the same.” While many of us may not have clear memories of our preschool teachers, Adelman hopes that she instills some positive values that stay with her young charges through the years. “I want them to understand that we are all special people and we all deserve to be treated with respect,” she says.
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LuAnne Toth St. Hilary School Music Teacher
LuAnne Toth says the biggest struggle in her classroom is getting her students to realize that each and every one of them is a musician. It is a struggle worth having, though, Toth notes. Toth tries to find a variety of ways to allow her first through eight grade students to relate to music. She heads up the school musical, which she describes as “three months of work, but so worth the time.” She also works with eighth graders on a Confirmation slide show. Students choose a song that illustrates their personal relationship with God, and then create a slide show using images that describe “who the students are, what is important to them, and how they see God in their life.” The project allows students to come to terms with their emerging personalities and their continuing relationship with God—a powerful experience for a young adult. An alumna of St. Hilary herself, Toth feels fortunate to be able to teach at a parochial school like her alma mater. She says, “I really am grateful to be able to share faith with the children and the people I work with. Religion isn’t just something that happens once or twice a week, but it is part of who we are.”
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Patrick Ater Canton Country Day School Science Teacher
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Kevin Hillery Archbishop Hoban High School
U.S. History, American Government and Student Achievement Seminar Teacher, Mock Trial Moderator “What makes Mr. Hillery an outstanding educator is that he is a man who lives out his values in all he does,” says nominator and Hoban Principal Dr. Mary Anne Beiting. “He wants to encourage students to reach for excellence and to stretch themselves to reach higher goals.” Kevin Hillery helps others reach their goals by being involved in the lives of his students, both inside and outside the classsroom. He teaches social studies at a variety of grade levels, moderates the school’s successful Mock Trial program, heads up the Holy Cross Leadership Institute (a national program), and serves as Associate Principal. Hillery believes that successful teachers should be good listeners and should encourage students to think critically. For him, the most rewarding part about teaching is “the opportunity to work with students and have some impact on the persons they become.”
Great teachers have a ripple effect on their students. They coach and mentor and lead by example. They plan feverishly, prepare endlessly and are willing to throw out their plans on a moment’s notice if that’s what it takes to reach their students. Most times, they have less than a year with each student, but their impact lasts far longer.
This year, six local teachers have been nominated by their peers for igniting creativity, inspiring confidence and modeling perseverance in their classrooms. We salute them and the scores of other unsung heroes in our schools for making a difference in so many young lives.