West Hartford teachers and music teachers from around the state have a great reason to celebrate today. One of their own, John Mastroianni, Director of Bands at Hall High School, has been named the 2014 Connecticut Teacher of the Year.
During the ceremony announcing the honor at Hall High School this morning, Mastroianni said, “I’ve been so blessed during my career to have so many great things happen to me, but I’ll tell you — this one takes the cake.”
“This has been the most exhilarating, the most fascinating, intense, and emotionally exhausting experience of my life,” he continued. Coming from Mastroianni, those words are no small thing.
Mastroianni has won multiple awards for his teaching and conducting and, as a professional musician, has performed with such well-known names in music as Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, and Smokey Robinson. He is well-known and highly respected in his field.
Bruce Putterman, chair of the West Hartford Board of Education, said, “I know families who have moved to West Hartford so their children could have Mr. Mastroianni as a teacher.”
Despite his many awards and recognition, speakers at the ceremony in his honor today described Mastroianni as an incredibly humble man who always thinks of his students first.
“I don’t even feel like today is about me, you know why?” Mastroianni asked. “Because this day is such a celebration of the arts. This day is such a statement of how powerful the arts are.”
Many of his students and former students can give testament to what the arts and Mastroianni, (Mr. M to many of his students), have meant to them.
Senior Ethan Swain, president of the Hall High School Student Association, said, “Music provides an outlet for all kids to express themselves — a way to boost confidence, learn to cooperate, overcome adversity, and remain determined. A mentor, a leader, and a friend, Mr. M pushes all students to learn and strive for greatness.”
Danielle DePalma, now a lawyer in New York City, was a student of Mastroianni’s when he taught at New Canaan High School during the 1990s. She has kept in touch with him over the years and wrote a letter in support of his application for Connecticut Teacher of the Year.
“My … accomplishments stemmed directly from my musical training; the focus, dedication and enthusiasm for learning that is inherent in the musical process,” wrote DePalma. “Even if most of his protégés do not continue to professional musical careers, they certainly carry the work ethic and positive outlook to their later specialties, fields, and communities.”
CEA President Sheila Cohen said, “Mr. Mastroianni exemplifies the highest standards of professionalism and commitment to young people. This year’s award to a music educator is recognition of the important role that the arts play in a well-rounded public education. This recognition could not have come at a more pivotal time as public concern grows over the overreliance on standardized testing in our classrooms.”
Governor Dannel P. Malloy was among those congratulating Mastroianni today. He told Mastroianni that his ability to impart his love of music to his students and his dedication are amazing.
Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor said that even in the midst of all that educators are taking on when it comes to the new evaluation system, Common Core, and more, “we need to make sure that we are ever ensuring that our students are well-rounded, that they do experience the arts.”
Swain added, “There’s nothing in the town of West Hartford’s water that produces special musicians. In every system, the genesis of success is the teachers. Teachers change the world every day.”
Rigorous Selection Process
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, a non-profit organization, is responsible for selecting a state Teacher of the Year. The Council is made up of past Connecticut Teachers of the Year, education stakeholders, and representatives from sponsor organizations.
This year CEA Treasurer Tom Nicholas and CEA Secretary Pat Jordan were both part of the selection committee. Out of 100 candidates they selected 15 semifinalists and then four finalists.
Jordan said, “We were most fortunate to visit with four absolutely amazing practitioners who each bring honor and joy to our profession!”
“The energy, passion, dynamic lessons and love for the students and profession emanates from these educators in ways that give you goose bumps,” Nicholas said. “It has been an honor and privilege for me to be a part of such an auspicious group of people in selecting the Connecticut Teacher of the Year.”
This year marks the second time in five years that a West Hartford teacher has been honored as the state Teacher of the Year.
“John is a great guy — I’ve known him for a while,” said West Hartford Education Association President David Dippolino. “It says a lot about our district that we’ve had two state teachers of the year in the last five years. It’s a great testament to what’s going on in West Hartford and what we’ve accomplished.”
Watch an excerpt of John Mastroianni’s speech today below.