Past Teachers of the Year Stress Connection and Continuous Improvement It’s Teacher of the Year (ToY) time, and that begs some questions: What goes into excellent teaching? How can we give our best to students every day? Fortunately, some of our past district Teachers of the Year have some great advice for empowering and encouraging both current and incoming Indianapolis Public Schools teachers.

Ann Mennonno, who was IPS ToY in 2004 and 2013, noted how excellence in teaching moves beyond the classroom. “Becoming ToY includes not only success in the classroom but also how you involve yourself in the community (local, state and global). You must be able to demonstrate how your efforts in the classroom have helped students learn and grow. And you need to be able to share how you are involved in other leadership activities and community service,” she said.

Being ToY helped her extend her reach, “I was able to share my ideas and help others outside of our district see the wonderful things happening in IPS.”
IPS ToY in 2001 Mark Blachly said an excellent teacher combines intellect, emotion and intuition. “You have to be highly competent in your subject area and know your stuff. You have to love students and what you teach. You need to be an intuitive teacher and feel when students aren’t with you, and change and adapt,” he said.

For 2003 IPS ToY Daphne Draa, excellence in teaching comes from connection. “In order to be a great teacher you have to make real connections with your stakeholders. You have to show up… If a child/family invites you, go. Write to your students in the summer, send them care packages in college and stay connected. Because in a blink of an eye, some of your students will become your colleagues (happening to me now!). Others will surprise you with things you never imagined.”

Draa also believes this connection also means sharing how great IPS is with everyone she can. “I love to brag about my job, how much I love it, how great my principal, colleagues, families, students and friends are!” she said. “I know I have personally changed the IPS perspective for many people.”

Gail Schwoebel, IPS ToY in 1992, stressed that “Great teachers can be found at ANY school, not just the top performing ones.” She also saw her ToY achievement as just one more step in a journey. After winning ToY she “set future educational goals (got my master’s) and also got additional licensing (Physics),” she said. “As a life-long learner, I also applied for (and got) the position of District Planetarium Director which I believe is my dream job. In other words, I didn’t sit back and say ‘This is it. This is the best I can do.’ The best is (or at least should be) ahead of you.”

Schwoebel finished with a quote, “As Winston Churchill said, ‘Never, never, never give up.’”

Christine Snow was IPS ToY in 2009, and she picked up on that “never give up” ideal. “The teachers I am fortunate enough to know are tireless. They put great demands on themselves, spend nights and weekends preparing for students, writing curriculum, participating in and leading professional development, collaborating with colleagues, and they are always seeking out new strategies to reach every one of their students and push every child they touch to be the best they can be.”

IPS is fortunate to have teachers like these former district ToY winners in our schools, and we’re excited by all the great teachers in our schools who are following these ToY examples by continuously developing their craft, seeking connection with their students and communities and always striving to do their best!