Teachers from over 160 school districts across the state took to the stage at The Bushnell yesterday for an event celebrating the importance of their profession and all its shining stars. Representing every grade from Kindergarten to 12 and every subject from algebra to world music, the teachers received a standing ovation from students, state leaders and colleagues.
David Bosso, Connecticut Teacher of the Year 2012 and chairman of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, welcomed the awardees and their guests to the ceremony and thanked all teachers for their dedication to their craft and enriching the lives of thousands of students in communities around the state, especially in trying times.
“Every year, all the applicants are very impressed and we are really excited to recognize you for excellence in our profession,” he said. “Your students and colleagues admire and appreciate you, and rightly so. We hope this evening will be an opportunity not only to celebrate, but also to reflect on the important work we do and be inspired by our collective influence.”
“You are honored for the experience you create in your classroom every day, live and in person,” said 2013 emcee and Connecticut Teacher of the Year Blaise Messinger. “You take these bare walls, these dilapidated desks and fluorescent lights, and you create a vibrant science center. You take this program and this range of sequences off the page and turn them into lessons, activities, and experiences that energize, that uplift, that enrich, change, and breathe life into your students.
“We’re here to celebrate your achievements, the amazing things you’ve been able to do for Connecticut students,” CEA Chair Kate Dias said in a video broadcast to the crowd. “You have shown grace, creativity and commitment to our students and the learning environment, and for that I thank you.”
Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker also expressed appreciation to teachers for their heroic efforts in removing academic and non-academic barriers to student success and providing a world-class education that prepares children for a bright future.
Connecticut Teacher of the Year 2023 is Carolyn Kielma, a 20-year veteran, Bristol Eastern High School science teacher, freshman, hailed as a pillar of her own school’s college prep program, helping hundreds of students – many of whom are immigrants, English language learners and/or first-generation students – they gain admission to universities across the country.
“Thank you to all the teachers and their families in the crowd tonight for coming here to support public education and the hard work we are doing,” she said.
“We as teachers are all masters of adaptation and evolution. The last few years have forced us to look beyond our comfort zones, whether in planning electronic or virtual lessons, understanding trauma-based care and practice, or planning a multi-level support system to get our researchers back on track with their learning. More than ever, we need collaboration between our peers in our professional learning communities. We must recognize and promote cultures of equality as they evolve. This is not a quick and easy solution, but it does require intention and focus. We will only move forward if we build on each other and support each other in this educational evolution.”
Kielma emphasized the incredible power that educators have when they stand together.
“We have greatness within us and we absolutely have to use it. Whether it’s a way to stand out, a new online app, a classroom management tip, or even a failed lesson, you, my fellow teachers, have taught me the most,” she said. “I don’t think I would have survived in this profession without other teachers who challenge me, support me and remind me to just breathe. Never forget that we are a group of highly educated, motivated and courageous professionals who understand the power of lifelong learning. We understand teaching. We “get” children. We know what works in our classrooms. Remember it. Trust yourself and be a leader in your ward.”
Kielma noted that the most lasting impact students feel from their teachers comes from how teachers spark curiosity, foster discovery, challenge students, and help them become motivated learners.
“Rock star teachers understand that learning isn’t about knowing the right answer; it’s a discovery process,” she explained. “We know that teaching is not only about content, but about helping young people become better people. Students remember the sense of belonging that made them feel valued, accepted, and respected in your class, even if they can’t express it. We know that if we they believe they can do something difficult, they they’ll believe it too.”
She added: “We also need to remember that while this profession is rewarding and essential to help develop productive citizens, it is also extremely exhausting and challenging. As educators, we must remember that we are most effective when we are able to take care of our own mental health and well-being. Many teachers I know, including myself, are “natural helpers” who sometimes forget to ask for help for themselves. Therefore, I consider it necessary for our administrators to promote and initiate self-care measures. As colleagues, we must remember to test each other, practice building each other up, and straighten each other’s crowns.”
To find out more about this year’s winners and finalists, keep an eye out for the next issue of the magazine CEA advisor.
2023 Connecticut Teacher of the Year, Winner*, Finalists** and Semi-Finalists – pictured top left to right, starting from front row – are Hilary Baude (Groton), John Allen** (Putnam), Carolyn Kielma*, Joel Nick (Farmington), Katherine Harbec (Mansfield), Amber Venoutsos (Enfield), Jennifer Rodriguez** (Newington), Bethany Rosin (Southington), Lisa Abel** (Simsbury), Rebecca Cipriani Reyer (Connecticut Technical Education System), Suzanne DesJarlais (Region 19), Maia Pavlick (Cromwell), Krisitine Komorowski (Betel), Judy Bannon (North Branford), Amy Christman (ACES), Robert Bajoros (Region 13), Michael Aitkenhead (Weston) and Janice Skene (Glastonbury).