May 30, 2008

Taking the time to honor educators

Source: New York Teacher
Caption: NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi talks with Dowling College Chapter President Susanne Bleiberg Seperson and college provost Linda Ardito before he spoke at the recognition event. Photo by Miller Photography.

For every educator who has ever been discouraged or frustrated, listen to Ashton Bell.

Or better yet, read his words, because his essay about his fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Atkinson Intermediate School in Freeport earned that teacher — Michael Fee — one of eight Educator of the Year awards from Long Island's Dowling College.

Now in college preparing to become a teacher, Bell wrote that he understands how teaching is a difficult job that "goes beyond the classroom and textbooks." Of the many great teachers he had in the Freeport schools, Bell wrote, Fee's expectations were high, but so was the amount of encouragement, support and discipline. "He went above and beyond ... to resolve every problem, even if it meant calling your mother at work."

A member of the Freeport Teachers Association for 21 years, Fee said he still feels fantastic, six weeks after the ceremony at Dowling to honor teachers.

That is exactly what Lizette Washington had in mind when the college's Center for Minority Teacher Development and Training decided to honor teachers and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-L.I., this year.

"I know how it can be so discouraging and how people need a boost from time to time," said Washington, a member of the South Huntington TA before taking on the task in 2003 of training the next generation of teachers. Israel was honored for securing a $400,000 federal grant Dowling College needed to start the program.

Developing the criteria was easy. Since becoming director of the program, she said, "I've always had the students write about why they want to become teachers. Usually I get essays about the teachers, guidance counselors and wide range of educators who not just helped them in school, but often made a difference in their lives," Washington said.

Essays this year were so good and heartfelt, "they had to be shared." Washington took pains to keep the award-winning educators from knowing why they were coming to Dowling. A number of organizations, including NYSUT, purchased ads to support the program.

"To see how one teacher makes a difference in the life of one student at a time and the long-lasting impact of that relationship is very moving," said Susanne Bleiberg Seperson, president of the Dowling College Chapter, NYSUT's local representing faculty. "We are living in a complex global village, but it is the individual human touch that makes a difference. The ceremony by our students to celebrate and honor their teachers was wonderful not only because teachers deserve recognition, but also because the students are committed to having the same kind of impact on their students,"

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi agreed, saying programs like Dowling's Center for Minority Teacher Development and Training need to be replicated.

He applauded the goals of the center: to increase the rate of minority graduates receiving bachelor's degrees in education; reduce the dropout rate of minority students; and to educate, train and recruit more minority men into teaching the lower grades in Long Island's public schools and elsewhere as a way to help close the achievement gap.

"In our state and across the nation we need more role models and support," said Iannuzzi, an elementary teacher for 34 years. He cited statistics released by the state Board of Regents last month showing that nearly 40 percent of all public school students were either black or Latino, compared to only 15 percent of all public school teachers in recent years.

Worse, the trend is toward fewer teachers of diverse backgrounds. Among the 60 percent of teachers whose race or ethnicity was known in 2006-07, only 6 percent of teaching certificates went to teachers who were black or Hispanic.

"Programs such as this, which last year saw some 25 graduates certified into the teaching profession in our state and 32 to other states, will help us to change those statistics," Iannuzzi said.

Anna Velez, a guidance counselor in the South Huntington district, is gratified to know she and colleague Barbara Haik made such an impact on Guirlene Lindor. After seeing Lindor for four years as her counselor at Walt Whitman High School, Velez had not seen her in almost a year.

"Guirlene is a bright, strong woman who will succeed in anything she does," Velez said.

"I'm still floating because she told me she has decided she ultimately wants to become a guidance counselor," Velez said.

Michael Fee did not recognize Bell.

"To see how he's grown into such a fine young man and hear him say I made an impact on him 11 years ago, that's just a great feeling," Fee said.

For details on the center's efforts go to

— Betsy Sandberg

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