Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and one Connecticut educator is already feeling very appreciated. Erin Palonen, a Griswold Middle School special education teacher, has been selected as a finalist in the “Top Teacher Search” on the TV show “Live with Kelly and Michael.”
Palonen will be the star of a segment aired on the show this Friday. Voting will open on Friday and continue over the weekend.
You can go to the show’s website starting Friday to recognize a fellow Connecticut educator and increase her chances of becoming the show’s “Top Teacher.”
“I couldn’t be happier that this national television show is taking part in recognizing the work of teachers and the value and role that we play in children’s lives,” Palonen said. “I hope that television viewers understand that it’s not about me, it’s about all educators.”
“All of the teachers whom I know put a tremendous amount of time and effort and passion into what they do every day,” she said. “We’re teachers, friends, role models, and more to our students.”
Palonen added, “We do it all because we want to and we know how important it is, but sometimes we feel very under-appreciated. I’m just the face of countless wonderful teachers — I work with a whole bunch.”
Palonen said that she thinks the nation is in a rut right now when it comes to education, and she hopes that the positive recognition of all that teachers do will help change that.
“I hope this kind of recognition of teachers will spark parents to vote in favor of education budgets and encourage legislators to really look at the decisions they’re making that affect education,” Palonen said. “As teachers, our individuality and creativity should be at the forefront of what we do.”
Because she’s at work when “Live with Kelly and Michael” airs, Palonen didn’t even know the contest existed until she herself was named a semi-finalist.
One morning at work she received a call asking her to come to the superintendent’s office at 9:40 a.m. She didn’t know what to think about the unusual invitation, but she joined administrators in the office as they turned on the TV.
Palonen said that the administrators timed it perfectly. “Kelly and Michael were just coming back on to announce the 12 semi-finalists. When I heard my name, I felt like I was on a cloud. Could this be real?”
At the time, Palonen had no idea how she’d been selected, but she later found out that the parent of a student she was fortunate enough to work with for seven years wrote a letter on her behalf to the show. “I was shocked that she went out of her way to write such a beautiful letter. I didn’t expect it. It has changed my life,” she said.
Out of the 1,000 letters sent on behalf of teachers, the show narrowed it down to 12 semi-finalists, and then five finalists, of which Palonen is one.
Last week a producer and cameraman for the show come to Palonen’s school for two days to film the segment which will air this Friday. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said. “The kids were so excited — they loved it.”
“I’ve been amazed at how much support and encouragement I’ve received from the wonderful people I work with,” Palonen said. “I’ve gotten countless emails, calls, and texts of support. People are going out of their way in support of one of their own — and their excitement is what’s made it a truly wonderful experience.”
“I’m most exited about representing this district’s kids and staff,” Palonen added. “I genuinely and sincerely love every second of my job.”
Once voting concludes, the “Top Teacher” will be announced on the show the week of Monday, May 6.
Read the moving letter submitted on Palonen’s behalf here. It was written by Lisa Coe, the mother of one of Palonen’s former students, Katie Coe, who is autistic.