Win a Winner!
Writers & Photographers
Berlitz Summer Camp
by Vivien Santana Hughes
First she won the Burbank school district’s top teacher title, then L.A. County’s, then the State of California’s. “At every level I just got more and more dumbstruck. I couldn’t believe this was happening,” says Rebecca Mieliwocki, the Luther Burbank Middle School teacher recently named the 2012 National Teacher of the Year. The final step was a process she likened to a heptathlon. In this case, the Olympic events for four national finalists included keynote addresses, interviews by a panel of 20 movers and shakers in education, press conferences, networking dinners and even a faux Today Show-type interview.
This L.A. parent of Davis, 11, with husband, Duane, had the “experience of a lifetime” when she received her award at the White House April 24, but it doesn’t stop there. “I’ve been given an incredible responsibility and opportunity. I’m very humbled, honored and excited about the job I get to do over the next year,” says Mieliwocki. Her year-long duties as an ambassador for the teaching profession will take her to every state and around the globe. We caught up with the 14-year teaching veteran after a whirlwind East Coast tour highlighted by a stay at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
You didn’t start out as a teacher. What drove you to a teaching career?
I thought I should be a lawyer. My parents were both teachers and so I kind of wanted to do anything but. I headed off to college and, as soon as I was done, I took a job in publishing. I finally, begrudgingly, came to the realization that teaching was probably going to be the perfect job for me, but it wasn’t until I started to get my credential that it really fired up the rest of me –my soul, my spirit, my enthusiasm and creativity – and I went, ‘Oh yeah, where have you been all my life?!’ The funny part was, it was right in front of me the whole time. I guess the apple falls from the tree, rolls around a little bit, and then comes back close to the tree.
A teacher needs to be someone who can capture the energy, power and enthusiasm that is within every child. Every kid is a curious learner and excited about something even if his or her outward appearance is screaming the opposite. Every kid is a little power plant of interests and hobbies and concerns and passions. Great teachers just tap into that. School needs to be an exciting journey for kids. It can’t be, ‘turn to page 12 and answer the questions.’
Is that philosophy why you were nominated?
I think so. A little bit of that and a little bit of loving the profession and loving my colleagues. I wanted to be with a community of professionals who strived every day to make each other look good and had tons of pride in what they did but no ego. I don’t close my door and isolate, I get out and around, I praise like crazy, I ask for help, I don’t attempt to be perfect. I’m just a real, genuine person and that has come across or my colleagues would not have nominated me.
How can parents best help their children succeed in school?
You’ve got to read constantly. Model good reading habits whether you love to read or not (fake it if you have to!). Read magazines, read brochures, read the cereal boxes. Make reading a very pleasurable, ordinary thing because if your children grow up in a print-rich environment, they’re miles ahead in tackling every academic challenge that will await them. They will have exposure to vocabulary and cultural literacy that will set them apart from their peers.
Mieliwocki highly recommends the Space Camp experience for kids and adults; www.spacecamp.com. Learn about the National Teacher of the Year Program at www.ccsso.org/ntoy.html. Read more of our interview with Mieliwocki at LAParent.com.
Chat Room columnist Vivien Santana Hughes is a former L.A. Parent editor and the mother of three – one newly employed university grad, one in college and (surprise!) a 7-year-old daughter.
Keeping Kids Hooked On Reading|
Children's author Eileen Wacker talks about embracing technology as a way to keep kids hooked on reading, even as they transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."
A Guide for Play-Based Summer Learning|
Learning does not have to involve a workbook or flashcards. With just a bit of creativity and inspiration from the 10 ideas below, you can make this summer fun and productive!
School Lockdowns: What You Need To Know|
Helicopters whirr overhead. Radio and TV news light up with word of a police emergency at your child’s school. It’s panic time in Parent-Ville. But should you succumb to worry? No, say experts.
Is Your Child Ready For Kindergarten – Or Not?|
More important than age is a series of developmental achievements that are necessary for a successful Kindergarten experience, which far outweigh the child's chronological age.
Chat Room: There's a Party In My City|
Check out this chat with Yo Gabba Gabba founders Scott Schultz and Christian Jacobs.
Chat Room: Melissa Rivers|
Reality series Melissa & Joan: Joan Knows Best? proved a big hit for WE tv and has been renewed for a second season. Says Melissa, “We’re jumping up and down for joy and the bickering has begun!”
Chat Room: Breast Cancer Warrior Noreen Fraser|
On her drive to find a cure for women’s cancers while battling it herself, Noreen Fraser says early detection is still key. “You have to be proactive. Pony up to the bar and realize the fact that you’re in charge of your own health.”
Jack Black: Kung Fu Papa|
Jack Black – comedian, actor, musician and alter ego to Kung Fu Panda’s unlikely Dragon Warrior, Po – is also Jack Black, married father of two sons: Samuel, 5 this month, and Thomas, 3.