Teacher of the Month

Previous Winners

March 2015, Shari Hayes

Congratulations to Shari Hayes, an adaptive physical ed instructor at St. Charles North High School in suburban St. Charles, for being March’s Teacher of the Month.

Hayes is always thinking of new ways of getting her students to be actively involved in gym class: “For me in adaptive PE I want to make sure that all my kids can participate, and they also get a say in what they’re doing, so if they want to play a particular sport or activity, they get a voice. They get to choose.” Hayes is able to provide disabled students with the experience of enjoying sports with their classmates. Her innovative technique is what sets Hayes apart because she doesn’t see these particular challenges as a problem.

September 2014, Diane Harrigan

Congratulations to Diane Harrigan, the choir and music teacher at Sauk Elementary School in Richton Park, for being September’s Teacher of the Month.

Ms. Harrigan believes that music is a powerful tool that can help children discover and boost their confidence. Harrigan says, “Sometimes they’re coming in with burdens. They’re coming in just to relieve the stress of the day, and I know that they have so much untapped potential and it’s my job to pull that out of them.” She explains how public concerts make students feel good about themselves. In this way, Harrigan has been able help students take what they’re learning inside the classroom and translate those positive accomplishments to the outside world.

May 2014, Deborah Brody

Congratulations to Deborah Brody, the eighth-grade language arts teacher at Lincoln Junior High in north suburban Skokie, who is May’s Teacher of the Month.

Brody has been teaching for over three decades and she says she still loves teaching and she loves this age. “Eight-grade is really fun -- to prepare the kids for high school and their futures and to really start thinking like adults." Brody makes sure her students understand what is being taught and makes a personal connection with her students by incorporating a sense of humor and a lot of warmth.

March 2014, Kathie Howe

Congratulations to Kathie Howe, who teaches language arts at Lukancic Middle School in Romeoville and is March's Teacher of the Month. Howe engages students by rewarding them with an entertaining learning experience as she bellows out tons of ideas that keep her students motivated. Howe wants students to learn to love books and learn to love to laugh. She clarifies by saying, "If I reduce teaching to nothing but nouns and verbs and adjectives, and don’t give 'students' real-world application, how are they going to fall in love with the written word?"

February 2014, Eric Hendricks

Congratulations to Eric Hendricks, a Math teacher at Providence St. Mel School in Chicago, who is February's Teacher of the Month. Mr. Hendricks encourages his students to dominate each day. He stresses that they should never lose sight of their bottom line and their goals to help them succeed in college and life in general. Hendricks says, “In life, you have a lot to do and not that much time to do it” and encourages his students to map out a plan, get down to business and get it done.

January 2014, Nicholas LoGalbo

Congratulations to Nicholas LoGalbo, an English literature teacher at Chicago’s Lane Tech High School, for being January’s Teacher of the Month. He tells his students to “live your life with a giving heart, serving, defining your purpose and your passion and helping the world.” His philosophy is to leave his students being better people than when they came in by modeling the right kind of behavior, giving them ideas, and getting them to think about the big picture and what they want to do. LoGalbo knows his purpose and passion in life is teaching and is “loving every minute of it.”

December 2013, Mike Stracco

Congratulations to Mike Stracco, who teaches English at Benet Academy in Lisle, for being December’s Teacher of the Month. Stracco is known by his students as encouraging and understanding. He trades roles with his students, giving them the opportunity to be heard while asking engaging questions and “getting them to think about what the answers could be.” On receiving the award, Stracco said, “Teachers everywhere work hard. I think I’m just a teacher of the vast number of teachers who are working very hard every day. I appreciate just the recognition for the profession.”

November 2013, Melissa Beaudry

Congratulations to Melissa Beaudry of Chicago's Skinner West Elementary School for being November's Teacher of the Month. Beaudry encourages her students to become well-rounded individuals as well as learners and rewards her students for being careful observers and kind to one another with her signature "hoot loot." "It's not just about being smart. It's about being a well-rounded person and learning to be good on the inside," says Beaudry.

October 2013, Lori Haskett

Congratulations to Lori Haskett of Orland Junior High for being October’s Teacher of the Month. Ms. Haskett takes a unique, individualized approach to achieving her student’s fitness goals. One student says she “feels energized and ready to learn” after Ms. Haskett’s class.

September 2013, Mary Mondt

Congratulations to Mary Mondt of Chicago’s John F. Kennedy High School for being September’s Teacher of the Month. As a teacher of geometry and special education classes, she always works to connect with her students and hopes that “there is one thing that they are going to remember.” One student described Mondt as “a star in the night and a sun on a cloudy day.”

June 2013, Cynthia Burnett

Congratulations to Cynthia Burnett of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin School in suburban Orland Hills. Burnett has been teaching for over 30 years and knows each child is different. She strives to meet their individual needs and give them "every opportunity to be successful." Burnett wants her students to "never quit and never give up" and hopes they will learn, to be successful, they need to have "patience and persistence."

May 2013, Laura Milas

Congratulations to Laura Milas of Hinsdale Central High School. As an art teacher, Milas wants to draw out the artist in her students and aspires to be “a guide” for them. She says, “This is a journey that we take together, and I hope to guide them and get them to do beyond what they think they can do.” Milas wants them to think about their art and never give up. “I think part of making art is frustrating, so I share that with them. I think every day is a battle, but perseverance is something I grade them on."

April 2013, Michael Rossi

Congratulations to Michael Rossi of Neuqua Valley High School in suburban Naperville. While teaching Philosophy and English Literature, coaching the freshman cross-country team and directing the annual monologue show, Rossi's rallying cry throughout is, "Let's make it happen!" Rossi connects with his students and helps them connect with the material. He says he loves his job, and it's all about helping his students "become the people the people they want to be."

March 2013, Cyndi Sulak

Congratulations to Cyndi Sulak of St. Charles North High School. Sulak has been in the classroom for seven years and teaches history, including classes such as honors European history and global issues. “Students like narratives. They like fiction. History is a story, so if we can bring it down to that, they can usually connect to it or some aspect of it to their own lives,” she says. Sulak says that she “does her job for the kids” and the nomination is “very humbling, very exciting, and very surprising all at the same time.” Her students think it’s well deserved.

February 2013, Daniel Briggs

Congratulations to Daniel Briggs of Brother Rice High School. As the director of music, Briggs teaches six classes and three levels of band. He says he never met a musical instrument he couldn’t teach a student to play. Briggs’s availability and boundless energy is key to his success as a teacher. One student says that “twenty-four seven, he’s always happy, upbeat.” Briggs believes “as soon as a student steps foot in the school, it’s our jobs as teachers to teach him. I get here at 6 a.m. and I stay till 6 p.m. Any time a student needs me, for anything, I’m here to help them.” He goes on to say, “I am their advocate in everything.”

January 2013, Molly Myers

Congratulations to Molly Myers of Chicago's Lindblom Math and Science Academy in the Englewood community. A freshman human geography teacher, Molly Myers discourages her students from focusing on grades, and instead gets them engaged with learning. Her students consider Myers a very supportive teacher with a willingness to help, even writing letters and messages to tell them how they are and how they can improve in school. Myers wants students to "become a two-year old again, because if you keep asking why and then go find the answer... you get to some pretty amazing places."

December 2012, Jason Okrasinski

Congratulations to Jason Okrasinski of Crete Monee High School. Known by his students as Mr. O, he is preparing his students to successfully navigate the internet in today’s computer-driven world. His students see him as “everything you’d really want in a teacher” – helpful, thorough and pushes them to “get better every day.” Okrasinski takes every chance he can to make a personal connection with his students and teach them that “learning is a life-long process.” Okrasinski is very flattered by the nomination and the caring things Kelly Green, the nominating student, wrote.

November 2012, Brad Breakfield

Congratulations to Brad Breakfield of Boone Upper Elementary near Rockford. His sixth-grade class thinks he puts the “A” in amazing. Morgaine Olsen, the nominating student, says he is the best, constantly pushing her and her classmates toward excellence.

Another student, Jacob Kruckenberg, says, “He’s the outline of a teacher, perfect, awesome.” Breakfield has a lot of fun with his students because “a really good learning environment makes it less stressful.” He makes sure to “get every kid at their level… every kid is challenged but not so challenged that he gets frustrated.”

October 2012, Kim Mullen

Congratulations to Kim Mullen of St Paul’s Lutheran School in Munster, Indiana. Kim Mullen may have stepped away from teaching for twenty years, but it didn’t diminish her passion. As a 5th grade teacher, her students appreciate her light, engaging but structured teaching style. Mullen keeps her students interested with a wide variety of activities and by telling them her own childhood memories. Muller aims to make her students “life-long learners” by showing them that class can be fun, but they can learn something, too.

September 2012, Brett Sharkey

Congratulations to Brett Sharkey of Maine West High School in Des Plaines, who is September’s Teacher of the Month. In honor of his achievements, Sharkey received a $1,000 check from Saint Xavier University.

A special education teacher, Sharkey conducts class wherever there is a lesson to be taught, going out of his way to help his students cultivate new skills that will motivate them in their lives and communities. “My goal for the kids I’m dealing with now is I’d like to make and help them become as independent as possible,” says Sharkey.

June 2012, Steve Parsons

Congratulations to Steve Parsons of Chicago’s Lane Tech High School. Parsons’ students are so taken with him that ten students entered his name for Teacher of the Month consideration. One student says that he learns “not only about psychology but how to be a better person in society.” As a psychology teacher, he asks his students to become advisors and come up with psychological programs to help America. Parsons says, “In order to get somebody to believe that they can be a better person, in order to get somebody to believe that they can achieve whatever they want in life… you just tell them. And eventually they’ll come believe to believe it. …Because, ultimately, it’s true.”

May 2012, Terry Jozwik

Congratulations to Terry Jozwik of Glenbrook South High School. He has mastered the art of engaging his students and keeping them engaged. As a social studies teacher, and a faculty sponsor of the model UN, he broadens his students’ perspectives. Bridgette Kilpatrick, the nominating student, says Jozwik “pushes his students to think outside the box.” She says he encourages all the students to be leaders and teaches everyone about respecting each other.

Jozwik loves teaching young people, saying that “each kid has something to offer in class and you just have to find what it is that they have, they possess and help them to nurture that and bring it out.” Jozwik says he was surprised and delighted at being nominated.

April 2012, Lisa Ehrlich-Menard

Congratulations Lisa Ehrlich-Menard of Curie Metropolitan High School. As a drama teacher, she aims to make her students step outside their comfort zone. “We’re talking about opening minds and looking at this from various angles,” Ehrlich-Menard says. She doesn’t shy from difficult topics; her students and the school responded strongly to a recent production of “The Laramie Project.” Her students said this was a “life-changing experience” and “completely changed their mindset.” Mrs. E, as her students call her, was so touched by the nomination she was left temporarily without words.

March 2012, Susan Steinmiller

Congratulations to Susan Steinmiller of Gage Park High School, who is March's Teacher of the Month. In honor of her achievements, Steinmiller received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.

Steinmiller is a history teacher to high school teens, and she has been teaching for 19 years. The devoted teacher drives 100 miles daily from Rockford to Gage Park High School on Chicago’s southside, and is available to her students until 6 p.m. on some days.

She also says the formula for success is simple: raise expectations and with guidance and support, students will meet the challenge.

February 2012, Octavia Sansing-Rhodes

Congratulations to Octavia Sansing-Rhodes of Chicago’s Herzl Elementary School on the city’s west side. As a child, she says didn’t get math, but as an adult she’s having tremendous success in helping her students get it.  She became a teacher because she “wanted to make a difference… and bring a different approach to teaching,” and she doesn’t give up on her students. According to one student, Charlisha Harris, since Sansing-Rhodes started teaching the low-scoring class a year ago, “mostly everybody… meets or exceeds the standard in math.” Sansing-Rhodes says she will use the check she received from Saint Xavier University on creative supplies to engage her math students in the learning process.

January 2012, Patricia Lamar

Congratulations to Patricia Lamar of the Delta Learning Center in south suburban Robbins, which is an alternative school for students who have difficulty in traditional schools. As a science teacher, she uses creative ways to grab their attention and keep her students interested. Lamar sees her students as very important to her and tries to meet them on their level. Lamar says, “I just try and diffuse the situation if their attitude is getting in the way of them learning what I’m trying to teach them. I try to take care of whatever is going on first, because I know until they can calm down, they can’t learn.” Her students appreciate her efforts. One student says, “If it wasn’t the time she was willing to spend with me after school… I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be graduating this year.” Lamar says she is going to use the check from St Xavier University to make a down payment on an outdoor therapeutic classroom she and a co-worker are developing on the grounds of the school.

December 2011, Cynthia Roder

Congratulations to Cynthia Roder of Portage Park Elementary School, who is December’s Teacher of the Month. In honor of her achievements, Roder received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.

Roder is a special education teacher to first graders. She currently has 16 very special students in her first grade class. “I just want to bring out the best in all my students, no matter where their level is,” says Roder. “I take what they can do rather than what they can't do and we take it from there. … I am just passionate about what I do. It gives me pleasure to see the growth.”

November 2011, Jack Matsumoto

Congratulations to Jack Matsumoto of Edison Gifted Center in Chicago, who is November's Teacher of the Month. In honor of his achievements, Low received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.

A jack-of-all-trades, Matsumoto has been teaching for 33 years, and he currently teaches American Literature, Writing, Math and Physical Science to 7th and 8th graders. “We get kids that love to learn. They love learning new things, doing new things,” Matsumoto said. “I try to relate it to them. I try to bring what we read in literature class and what we do in science and have them apply it to what they are doing and seeing and thinking about.”

October 2011, Michael Low

Congratulations to Michael Low of Little Village Lawndale High School, who is October's Teacher of the Month. In honor of his achievements, Low received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.

Low teaches English literature and Japanese, a subject many students have showed strong interest in learning. “For me, if you’re truly interested in something, it’s hard not to get excited about it,” Low said. “And I am very interested in what I teach. It’s utterly fascinating. [The students] have no idea how much there is to know and how little they actually know about the world.”

September 2011, Norma Gutierrez

Congratulations to Norma Gutierrez of Noble Street College Prep, who is September's Teacher of the Month. In honor of her achievements, Ms. Gutierrez received a $1,000 check for school supplies from Saint Xavier University.

Ms. Gutierrez—or Ms. G as her students call her—teaches at Noble Street College Prep as a math teacher, though her lessons go beyond adding and subtracting. Ms. G's students describe her as motherly, patient, there when you need help, never doubtful, easy to talk to and open to questions. She has shown her students over and over again that she is in their corner, even if it doesn’t have to deal with math.