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Obama honors Burbank's Rebecca Mieliwocki as teacher of the year

April 24, 2012 |  9:08 am

 

President Obama recognized Burbank teacher Rebecca Mieliwocki as the 2012 National Teacher of the Year during a ceremony Tuesday at the White House.

Mieliwocki, a seventh-grade English teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School, was cheered loudly by the audience at the event. Obama pointed out a particularly loud cheering section during his remarks.

“This is Rebecca’s crew right here, who are very proud. Auntie, cousins?” Obama asked the group.

“My boss,” Mieliwocki interjected, to laughs.

“Oh, boss. Even more important,” he said.

Obama spoke about how Mieliwocki was raised by two public schoolteachers but took a somewhat roundabout way into the profession.

She first aspired to be a lawyer, then worked in publishing, then floral design and event planning.

“But ultimately, she found herself drawn back to the classroom,” he said. “And her students are so lucky that she did.”

The profession suits her personality as a self-proclaimed “12-year-old goofball dying to get out,” Obama said, adding, “And I have to say, she was a little goofy when I met her.”

He noted that Mieliwocki sets high expectations for her students and herself, developing creative lessons, hosting family nights, sending weekly parent memos and maintaining a Facebook page for her class.

“Rebecca is the definition of above and beyond,” he said.

Mieliwocki then spoke from the lectern, calling the winners of state teacher of the year awards gathered behind her as the most “dedicated, intelligent, compassionate, hardworking group of professionals you will never meet.”

“I am not the best teacher in America — there isn’t one,” she said. “All across this nation there are millions of teachers who do the work that I do and many do it better.”

Mieliwocki said that across the country, teachers are working wonders despite the mounting barriers they face.

“Our children are our future and that I have a hand in guiding and shaping that future compels me to make every minute, every lesson, every moment with them count,” she said.

In an interview with The Times on Monday, Mieliwocki said the award is particularly special because it comes at a precarious time for California public schools.

"It is a tremendous testament to how resourceful California educators can be in the face of really crazy budget cuts," she said. "Public education does so much to provide kids with the highest quality education possible but with so much less."

Aside from state funding cuts, teachers also face pressure stemming from calls for revamped teacher evaluations. Some districts are using student test scores as one measure of those performance reviews.

Mieliwocki said teachers must be evaluated from a variety of perspectives, including data, to get a true picture of their effectiveness. Teachers' connections with their students, colleagues and community, as well as student writing scores and test scores, should all be weighed together, she said.

"Accountability matters to me. I have to know I am doing a good job and know what areas I need to improve in," she told The Times. "But I need to be looked at through every one of those lenses, not just one."

Mieliwocki was named the Los Angeles County teacher of the year in October. A month later, she was named as one of five California teachers of the year by California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and advanced to the national competition.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

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