“I stand before you all with a heart full of gratitude, joy, and appreciation as we gather not only to celebrate the profession of teaching but also the spirit that defines our community,” said New London fourth grade teacher Kiana Foster-Mauro at the Connecticut Teacher of the Year awards ceremony that took place earlier this week. Foster-Mauro, Connecticut’s 2024 Teacher of the Year, noted that her new title is “a reflection of the collective efforts of every educator who makes our state shine.”
Held at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the ceremony honored more than 100 district-level teachers of the year.
Where education comes alive
“A school is just a building until you, we—the teachers—get in there,” said emcee Blaise Messinger, 2013 Connecticut Teacher of the Year. “To you, that empty space is full of promise and opportunity. You take those bare walls and create a vibrant hub of learning. You take that curriculum and that scope and sequence off the page and turn it into lessons, activities, and experiences that energize, elevate, enrich, alter, and infuse the lives of students. Just like in this theater, you bring the world of knowledge alive for your students, and that’s why you’re here tonight. You’re being honored for the experiences you create in your classroom every day, live and in person.”
Acknowledging the often difficult conditions under which today’s educators work, Connecticut TOY Council President and 2012 Teacher of the Year David Bosso told honorees, “Amidst the tumult and turmoil of our world, you are a source of strength, stability, inspiration, and hope. Our students, colleagues, and school communities rely on us far more than we may ever know.”
Praise for the profession
Joining the celebration of Connecticut’s exemplars in education were CEA President Kate Dias, State Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Rusell-Tucker, and Governor Ned Lamont.
“We are so proud to honor all our amazing educators throughout the state and to celebrate Kiana, a bright light for her students, her community, and her colleagues,” said Dias. “By uplifting students with lessons that empower, that center joy, and that tackle critical and relevant topics, she reflects the very best of our profession.”
Recalling his own beloved seventh-grade history teacher, Governor Lamont noted, “I remember that he made history come to life for me; that’s what a teacher does. As I always say, Texas has oil and gas, and Florida sells sunshine to tourists, but Connecticut has the best-trained workforce in the world and the best citizens, and that’s because we have the best teachers. That’s our oil and gas; that’s our sunshine.”
Rusell-Tucker added, “The Teacher of the Year Program celebrates excellence in teaching by recognizing teachers who inspire a love of learning in their students and who have distinguished themselves in the profession. Your unwavering commitment truly warrants a well-deserved, resounding round of applause.”
Leading the pledge of allegiance in both English and Spanish and delivering a cappella chorus and dance performances at the ceremony were students from Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School, where Foster-Mauro teaches.
“Thank you for being you in all of your beautiful and different ways, keeping me on my toes, and teaching me just as much as—if not more than—I have taught you,” she told students in attendance as well as those at home.
“My fellow educators,” she continued, “you are the heart and soul of education in our state. You are magic. Through a variety of paths, we have each chosen to take on this uniquely special role. Every day we celebrate the innate brilliance that resides in every one of our students. We dedicate our lives to preserving and growing that brilliance and magic and empowering children’s souls and minds. We create new roads and opportunities where none existed. We learn and grow for, with, and from our students on these unexplored paths.”
She added, “The world around us is always evolving, and social change, new policies, global events, and legislation all have the potential to either strengthen or weaken the magic that occurs in our classrooms. Educators’ roles have never been more crucial. We are the keepers of hopes and dreams. We work to ignite passion, encourage growth, create relationships, and build new realities. Undoubtedly there are a lot of difficult days that put us to the test in unexpected ways. We spend our days pushing past and against limitations imposed on us—past the limits on space, time, and resources and past the limits of burnout. Although we are under constant pressure and pushing, we still choose to show up and make magic happen.”
Foster-Mauro will represent Connecticut in the National Teacher of the Year Program, serving on a variety of state and national advisory committees as an ambassador for public education.
Pictured at top, left to right, starting with the front row, are finalists Olivia Petersen (East Granby) and Marco Cenabre (New Haven), CEA President Kate Dias, 2024 Teacher of the Year Kiana Foster-Mauro (New London), and finalist Angela Fragoso (Meriden); 2nd row, semifinalists Sharon Huynh (Weston), Laura Laflamme (Suffield), Nancy Nelson (Farmington), Marissa Nall (Region 5), Holly Pugliese (Bristol); 3rd row, Tom Feige (Region 6), Natalie Geeza (Brooklyn), Maria Rivera (CREC), Steven St. Onge (Cromwell); 4th row, Timothy Sanderson (Glastonbury), Melissa Batulevitz (Mansfield), and Danielle Lingo (Redding).