Teachers from more than 160 school districts across the state took the stage at The Bushnell yesterday in an event celebrating the importance of their profession and all its shining stars. Representing every grade from pre-K to 12, and every subject—from algebra to world music—educators received a standing ovation from students, state leaders, and colleagues.
David Bosso, 2012 Connecticut Teacher of the Year and president of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, welcomed honorees and their guests to the ceremony and recognized all educators for their devotion to their craft and for enriching the lives of thousands of students in communities across the state, especially during trying times.
“Each year, we are thoroughly impressed by all of the candidates, and we are truly thrilled to recognize you for excellence in our profession,” he said. “Your students and colleagues admire and appreciate you, and justifiably so. We hope that this evening offers an opportunity not only to celebrate but also to reflect on the important work we do and to be inspired by our collective impact.”
“You are being honored for the experience you create in your classroom every day, live and in person,” said emcee and 2013 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Blaise Messinger. “You take those bare walls, those beat-up desks, and fluorescent lights and create a vibrant hub of learning. You take that curriculum and that scope of sequence off the page and transform it into lessons and activities and experiences that energize, that elevate, that enrich and alter and infuse the lives of your students.”
“Here we are, able to celebrate your accomplishments the amazing things you were able to do for students in the state of Connecticut,” said CEA President Kate Dias in a video broadcast to the crowd. “You’ve demonstrated grace, creativity, and commitment to our students and the education profession, and for that, I thank you.”
Also commending teachers for their heroic efforts at removing academic and nonacademic barriers to students’ success and providing a world-class education that prepares children for bright futures were Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker.
Connecticut’s 2023 Teacher of the Year is 20-year veteran Bristol Eastern High School science teacher Carolyn Kielma, a first-generation college student hailed as the backbone of her own school’s college preparatory program, which helps hundreds of students—many of whom are immigrants, English learners, and/or first-generation college students—gain entry into universities around the country.
“Thank you to all the educators and their families in the crowd tonight for coming here to support public education and the hard work we do,” she said.
“We, as educators, are all masters of adaptation and evolution. The past few years forced us to step outside our comfort zones, whether in planning electronic or virtual lessons, understanding trauma-informed care and practice, or planning a multi-tiered system of support to get our scholars back on track in their learning. More than ever, we need collaboration amongst our peers in our professional learning communities. We need to recognize and promote cultures of equity as we evolve. This is not a quick and easy fix but will take intentionality and focus. We will only move forward by leaning on and supporting each other in this educational evolution.”
Kielma emphasized the incredible power that educators have when they stand together.
“We have greatness among us, and we absolutely need to harness it. Whether it’s a way to differentiate, a new online application, a classroom management tip, or even a failed lesson, it is you, my fellow educators, who have taught me the most,” she said. “I do not think I could’ve 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’ kids. We know what works in our classrooms. Remember that. Trust in yourself and be a leader in your district.”
Kielma noted that the most enduring impacts students feel from their teachers stem from how educators spark curiosity, foster discovery, challenge students, and help them become self-motivated learners.
“Rock star teachers understand that learning is not about knowing the right answer; it is a process of discovery,” she explained. “We know that teaching is not only about content but about helping youth become better humans. Students remember the sense of belonging that made them feel valued, accepted, and treated with respect in your class, even if they cannot vocalize it. We know that if we believe that they can accomplish something difficult, they will believe it too.”
She added, “We also must remember that while this profession is rewarding and vital to help develop productive citizens, it is also extremely exhausting and difficult. 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, myself included, are ‘natural helpers’ who sometimes forget to ask for help for themselves. So I feel it is imperative that our administrators promote and initiate self-care measures. As colleagues, we must remember to check on each other, practice building each other up, and straighten each other’s crowns.”
For more on this year’s winner and finalists, watch for your next issue of the CEA Advisor.
2023 Connecticut Teacher of the Year winner*, finalists**, and semifinalists—pictured at top, left to right starting from the first 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 (Bethel), Judy Bannon (North Branford), Amy Christman (ACES), Robert Bajoros (Region 13) Michael Aitkenhead (Weston), and Janice Skene (Glastonbury).