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Teacher of the Year over the years

Henry A. Wolcott School – where I have taught for the past 24 years – has been blessed with a large number of teachers who have been named Teacher of the Year in our school district.

The district has 16 schools and more than 700 teachers. By simple average, our school would’ve been expected to have one or two Teachers of the Year over the last  30 years.

Instead, we’ve had six.

Our first, back in 1992, was vocal music teacher Rob Hugh. Rob is retired today (after 39 years of teaching) but is a frequent golf buddy of mine and is still composing music sung by children worldwide.

In 2005, I was fortunate enough to be named Teacher of the Year.

That same year, my brilliant colleague, now-retired kindergarten teacher Debby Szajnberg, was also one of the three finalists for the award.

Quite a year, and quite an honor for our school.

In 2006, librarian Kathy Paquette, now enjoying retirement in South Carolina, was honored with the award.

In 2008, instrumental music teacher Andy Mayo, who is now West Hartford’s Department Supervisor of Performing Arts, won the award.

In 2014, kindergarten teacher Jeff Michaud was named Teacher of the Year, but because he retired from teaching at the end of that school year to take over his father’s business, he was unable to fulfill the duties, so the award was passed on to the equally deserving second place finisher that year.

Still an honor for our school and my good friend.

In 2019, my colleague and fellow fifth-grade teacher, Jennifer Stanish, was named Teacher of the Year.

I mention all of this history because this year, the three Teacher of the Year finalists had Wolcott School roots.

Finalist Eric Feeney is currently a third-grade teacher in our school.

Finalist Dylan Geisler worked as a physical education teacher in our school for many years before moving on to another school in our district.

Finalist and recently named 2023 Teacher of the Year Emily McMurray was a kindergarten teacher for years at Wolcott School before becoming a preschool teacher in another school in our district.

My favorite memory of Emily is from years ago when she and I performed together in a school play. Backstage during one of our evening performances, I remember seeing Emily tucked into a corner, script sitting by her side, scissors in one hand and yellow construction paper in the other, cutting triangles and circles for the next day’s lesson in between scenes.

“That’s some serious dedication,” I remember thinking. “Some ridiculous dedication.”

Not surprising, I guess, from a future Teacher of the Year.

Congratulations to Emily. A well-deserved honor for sure.

And congratulations to Dylan and Eric. The Teacher of the Year process is a long and challenging one, so making it to the final three is quite an accomplishment.

The only problem with our Teacher of the Year process is that only one teacher gets named every year. I personally know so many deserving teachers who are more than deserving to be named  Teacher of the Year who may never receive the honor.

Thankfully, no one goes into teaching hoping to win recognition and acclaim. Most of us receive all the recognition we need from our students and their parents. As a former Teacher of the Year and one of three finalists for Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year, I can point to thousands of moments with students, notes written to me by grateful kids and their parents, and unforgettable honors like officiating the wedding ceremony of a former student as far more important and memorable than any honor my colleagues could ever bestow.

Being named Teacher of the Year is quite an honor.

Being able to change the lives of children every day is an even greater honor.