Happy World Teachers' Day!

Teachers across the country continue to show up, stand up, and lead through an ever-changing landscape. They are adaptable, dependable, and resilient through extraordinary challenges and opportunities. Teachers shine.

Thank you for being beacons for students across the country. Happy World Teachers' Day!

Today we celebrate ALL teachers. Hear what inspires and motivates PLTW National Teacher of the Year award recipients to continue to connect students with meaningful learning experiences.

 

Amy Baldwin, Robert and Patricia Kern Teacher of the Year

What inspired you to become a teacher, and what motivates you to continue empowering students across the country?

I grew up with amazing teachers. I can name every teacher I had from kindergarten to high school and tell you in detail about a lesson or experience I had in their classroom. I remember being excited to go to school every day, even in middle school when I was trying to find my way. I had teachers who realized I was trying to fit in and encouraged me to be myself and not hide my passion for learning. In high school, I joined the Teacher Cadet program and enjoyed working in the middle school classrooms the most. In college, I began tutoring math, fell in love with math, and discovered I had a passion for helping others understand concepts in different ways. When I graduated from Charleston Southern University, I was blessed when offered a 7th grade math position at the middle school I attended. Twenty-two years ago, I took the job at Oakbrook Middle and found my school family, my home away from home. As I look back, I feel the inspiring teachers I had helped me find my passion and ultimately inspired me to be the teacher I am today.

The last few years have been hard for all of us. My greatest motivation every day is MY STUDENTS. My students are the reason I come to school with the goal of helping them become the best versions of themselves. The pandemic has brought challenges in everyone’s lives that we never dreamed of, and many people are struggling to find their place in our new world. When we first closed schools, I knew I needed to reach out to my students and encourage them. I knew that, for many students , my class is their “happy place,” and I needed to provide this even from a distance. I offered meetings where we just talked about life and played STEM trivia because I knew my students needed this connection.  As the 2019-20 school year began, I met some amazing students through our virtual academy and in my classroom. Each group of students needed my support in different ways.  This motivated me to find ways to encourage them to find their passions, like I was initially inspired by my former teachers. I believe that encouraging students to try their best empowers them to be better than they ever thought. In middle school, confidence and dedicated teachers help students grow. As we move forward in the “new” world, I will continue to help my students grow and feel empowered to reach their dreams.

 

Danielle Doherty-Koch, Robert and Patricia Kern Teacher of the Year

What inspired you to become a teacher, and what motivates you to continue empowering students across the country?

I was never one of those people that dreamed of one day becoming a teacher. My first plan was to become a marine scientist/biologist. In fact, during my final year in college to obtain my marine science degree at Florida Gulf Coast University, I completed an internship at a local sea turtle and marine mammal rescue facility back near my hometown on Long Island, New York. It was there that I discovered how closely tied education was to conservation. I thoroughly enjoyed educating the public on the local issues facing our wildlife and ecosystems. I realized that it was through education that I could make a larger impact on the cause of preservation. Upon completing that internship and volunteer work, I moved to Florida where I began teaching Marine Science at Crystal River High School to continue educating students on the local ecosystems, the local wildlife, and the issues both were facing due to human activity. I found that students really wanted to help when they understood the issues – and many had no idea about most of them when they came into my classroom. It was an amazing feeling to be a part of so many students discovering a love for their local ecosystems and a true understanding of the importance of conservation.

It wasn’t until my second-year teaching that I was asked to train and teach PLTW Biomedical Science classes in the program we were starting at the high school. The cutting-edge use of real-world technology and the development of necessary job-ready skills was incredible. Seeing the doors the PLTW program opened for students, both in their current education and their educational future, was amazing and such a rewarding benefit. I feel it is such a gift to be able to help students unlock these pathways that they never even knew existed, and gain the knowledge and skills that will set them apart in the workforce. There is truly nothing better than helping to develop critical thinkers empowered with knowledge and skills to help others and make this world a better place. Seeing my former students go on to make an impact in the world, better themselves, and become happy and thriving adults – what more could you ask for?

 

Charlene Griesner, Robert and Patricia Kern Teacher of the Year

What inspired you to become a teacher, and what motivates you to continue empowering students across the country?

As a child, I had difficulty with my reading, writing, and spelling skills. I was placed on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for a learning disability in the 2nd grade. The support through individualized instruction and encouragement I received, gave me confidence and an “I Can” attitude. By the 6th grade, I no longer needed the accommodations and services my IEP provided. In middle school, I experienced what it was like to be socially shunned. I’ve  had Alopecia since age 12 and it worsened and became visible. Adults in my life, especially my parents, helped me find my voice, passion, and perseverance. We may forget the encouraging words we have been told over the years, but you never seem to forget how those actions and words made you feel in that moment. Alopecia has taught me to have a positive mindset in challenging circumstances. As I progressed through elementary school, middle school, and even college, I found myself in situations where I was able to empathize with my peers struggling, not only in academics, but with self-esteem. I am passionate about encouraging others to find their voice and to advocate for others. I decided I wanted to be a teacher at an early age. Becoming an educator has been an opportunity for me to guide children to find their voice and passion. To encourage students to persevere through challenges, reach goals, and to truly believe the words “I Can!” My passion and drive are from the barriers and obstacles that I have experienced and overcame. 

When I wake up in the morning, what motivates me? My WHY is what motivates me to continue to empower students across the country. I believe my WHY is creating moments for others. It’s powerful to create moments to encourage and provide students with opportunities to succeed and feel successful . If I can create a moment for a child or young adult or provide them with a daily WIN, they will feel encouraged and elevated. As a result, they will seek out and recognize their own personal daily WINS. Creating that spark of excitement in learners is priceless. I strive to ignite levels of inspiration for students to challenge and achieve new heights. I aspire to create these moments through relevant educational experiences, embedding college and career skills, and preparing students for careers that may not even exist yet!

 

Ralph Alvarado, PLTW Gateway Teacher of the Year

What inspired you to become a teacher, and what motivates you to continue empowering students across the country?

Prior to teaching, I held many different positions in a wide variety of industries. Throughout that time, Ihad the pleasure of being led by a few great individuals that truly changed my life and helped mold me as a person. I got into teaching to help students develop the confidence and skills they need to change their lives for the better. Educators and classroom leaders have the unique opportunity of using the relationships they forge to help students become more confident, well-rounded individuals. I strive to do this every day. I think about the leaders I had and strive to duplicate those traits as I lead my students. 

I wouldn’t still be teaching if it weren’t for the PLTW curriculum. PLTW gives me the freedom to cultivate relationships and focus on the skills my students need to be successful. There is so much joy in seeing students engage in hands-on learning. Giving students the ability to take charge of their learning is extremely gratifying. The PLTW program allows me to focus on my craft as an educator and gives me the balance in the classroom to engage my students completely 

 

Michael Thomas Karasch, PLTW Engineering Teacher of the Year

What inspired you to become a teacher, and what motivates you to continue empowering students across the country?

I went to college originally planning to be a computer programmer. Soon into the first semester, I realized that, while I enjoyed the course content, I found much more joy in helping other students who were struggling. I was also working in technical theatre with students who had never built anything or used power tools. In both cases, helping people move from a place of "I can't do this" to "I CAN do it, and I did!" was exhilarating for me.

Being able to "teach the teachers" has given me an amazing opportunity to learn from teachers throughout the nation, and to model the things I've learned. I'm excited by the idea that helping a teacher love their craft, model excitement in the classroom, and connect could impact thousands of their students over a career.  Knowing that I had some small part in the thousands of "I CAN do it" across the nation is incredibly motivating.

 

Randy Mills, PLTW Computer Science Teacher of the Year

What inspired you to become a teacher, and what motivates you to continue empowering students across the country?

Never miss opportunities! Take advantage of things that sound out of your comfort zone.

In 1992, I left a job at the 5th largest retailer in the world. I tried to examine what I did running stores and settled on the joy I had teaching people to do their jobs and was always excited when someone moved on to bigger and better things. I enrolled in a teaching prep program and picked elementary education. I was still afraid of the unknown but thought that I could do elementary grades. I found it very challenging to teach 1st grade and it taught me how to be a good teacher not just a content specialist. After 10, years I was at an event and the principal of a local high school knew that I was talented with computers and offered me a position teaching high school web design and multimedia. A few years later, I was forwarded an email asking if I would like to create teams for a national cybersecurity competition. We have been lucky to travel to the national finals twice in the last 10 years. About nine years ago, I had a colleague ask what I thought about teaching Introdutcion to Engineering Design in the PLTW High School Engineering program. As with all those other opportunities, it was out of my comfort zone, but I said yes, and it has been a joy teaching PLTW. Five years ago, I was asked to be on an advisor group to formulate the Cybersecurity course. I did and got the chance to test newly written activities as the course was in development. Then the opportunity came to be a Master Teacher for Cybersecurity and the thought of presenting these courses to others terrified me. My immediate answer was yes, and I have continued working with PLTW for other PLTW Computer Science courses. All of this was possible because I seized an opportunity, tamed my fears, and forged ahead. By sharing that approach to students every day, I hope it inspires them to do the same. Now with retirement in the near future, I am looking for new projects and new opportunities to continue learning.

 

Danielle Weber, PLTW Biomedical Science Teacher of the Year

What inspired you to become a teacher, and what motivates you to continue empowering students across the country?

Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to do something with biology but never thought about teaching. As a biology major, I was given the chance to serve as a teaching assistant for several labs starting my freshman year in college and discovered my love of teaching. I added a secondary science education major to my college plan and never looked back. My love of mentoring, sharing knowledge, building relationships, discovering new questions, and developing possible solutions is evident to others in and out of school; in fact, both of my sons (ages five and eight) passionately want to be teachers when they grow up. 

Being a teacher is an amazing opportunity and a significant responsibility. Every day brings new challenges and successes. Working with students to help foster their joy of learning, problem solving, team building, and personal growth inspires me to continue working to empower students day after day. From the seemingly small wins and connections made in the classroom, to the grateful and significant impacts I've made that students share years later; my job is truly amazing.