10 inspiring teachers we've met in 2014

Alexandra Wladich  //  Dec 19, 2014

10 inspiring teachers we've met in 2014

For more than 94 years, Scholastic has been committed to supporting all of the amazing teachers who seek to “Open a World of Possible” for children by helping them become confident, enthusiastic, lifelong readers.

To celebrate the critical work teachers do every day, we wanted to highlight some amazing teachers we’ve met this year.

Name: Katie Ferguson

School: Jessie T. Zoller Elementary School, Schenectady, NY

A second-grade teacher at Jessie T. Zoller Elementary School in Schenectady, NY, Katie Ferguson is an expert in literacy instruction and serves as a mentor to teachers in her school and district. Her work with independent literacy centers has often been observed by teachers throughout her district, and her self-created materials for reading instruction have been shared with numerous teachers in both her building and throughout the district. Katie created her own unique, theme-oriented classroom management plan in which every student experiences success and is held accountable for his or her own actions. Her classroom management style has also been adopted by various teachers throughout the district. In addition to her work in the classroom, Katie is developing a program to teach single mothers the importance of reading to their children at an early age. When reflecting on her career, Katie states, “Teaching is more than a profession to me. It is a way of life.”

Name: Michelle Colte

School: Hale Kula Elementary School, Wahiawa, HI

Michelle Colte has been a library media specialist at Hale Kula Elementary School in Wahiawa, HI for nine years. She was named the 2014 School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year in September and is a passionate advocate of integrating technology into instruction as well as building community. Michelle continuously seeks to emphasize the importance of playful learning by working hand-in-hand with teachers to introduce students to fun and exciting initiatives such as “Hour of Code” website development and programs like Google Apps. When she isn’t presenting at tech and education conferences, Michelle strives to develop a sense of “ohana,” or family, in the library by regularly coordinating school events to bring together students, staff and parents.

Full Name: Spy Kontarinis

School: Edward R.Murrow High School, Brooklyn, NY

As both an Assistant Principal of Fine Arts and Art History and Portfolio Development teacher at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, NY, Spy Kontarinis has helped foster the creativity of countless high school students. Year after year, Spy encourages her students to submit to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition initiative for teens in grades 7–12. In June, Steven Paul, a twelfth-grade student in Spy’s art history class, won a National Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Medal Award for his photograph “Lost Time.” This photo was then painted by Colossal Media to be larger-than-life on the side of a building in Brooklyn! In addition, Steven received the opportunity to be a West Coast photographer for Colossal Media and receive a scholarship from International Center of Photography to attend their summer program. Spy continually inspires her students to achieve greatness inside and outside of the classroom.  


Name: Evan Mirenberg

School: P.S. 188, Brooklyn, NY

Evan Mirenberg is in his first year as the dedicated elementary STEM teacher at P.S. 188 in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Until this year, Evan was a self-contained special education teacher and the school’s STEM facilitator. To engage his students, most of Evan’s lessons involve LEGO pieces, robotics, and a lot of imagination and problem solving. As Evan explains, “Sometimes when students build a robot, they’ll program it the way they think it should be programmed, but it won’t function the way they want it to. It’s a lot of problem solving to reprogram the robot and try out the new program. If that doesn’t work, then they have to find out where they went wrong by troubleshooting. Is it difficult? Very much so. They’re learning a lot, which is key.” Evan also encourages his students to take their talents outside of the classroom by registering them for the Junior First Robotics competition. In 2013, Evan was recognized by the National Science Teachers Association as the PASCO STEM Educator Award winner.

Name: Beth Maloney

School: Sunset Hills Elementary School, Surprise, AZ

Beth Maloney, the Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, is currently in her 15th year of teaching. As a fifth-grade teacher at Sunset Hills Elementary School in Arizona’s Dysart Unified School District, Beth focuses on integrating language arts into social studies lessons and really enjoys the challenge of the new standards. Her philosophy is "inspired enthusiasm is contagious” and she believes that “no child hates to read—they just haven't found the right books yet!” She makes it her mission to fill her students’ lives with great books that are just right for them. Outside of the classroom, Beth presents at various conferences and educational events around the state to share her best practices.

Name: Pamela Bittner

School: Life School, Cedar Hill, TX

Pam Bittner is a kindergarten teacher at Life School in Cedar Hill, TX. Understanding the critical importance of our youngest students having access to books, Pam’s classroom is filled with a variety of texts. She shares her love of reading with her students and tells them how “reading is like getting on an adventure train that will take you anywhere you want to go!” To foster a love of reading and writing in her students, Pam participates in a “reading buddies” program that matches her kindergarten students with mentor 5th graders. Pam is also the kindergarten team lead, librarian, head of the Spanish club, and is on the curriculum planning and continuum planning committees for the district. Needless to say, she wears many hats!

Name: Brian Bucciarelli

School: District 214, Elk Grove, IL

When Brian Bucciarelli was asked to pilot the MATH 180 program with 9th graders last year, he was hesitant. However, after Brian saw his students making progress, participating in math discussions and excited about their achievements, he was hooked. Brian spent last school year collaborating with his Special Education coordinator to connect the foundational concepts in MATH 180 to the algebra curriculum and ACT benchmarks. All of that hard work has paid off. Almost all of his students have made significant improvement, and his students who have been in the MATH 180 program for a year and a half have grown significantly. The students attribute their success to "Mr. B,” saying, “He’s just awesome!”

Name: Nancy Petriello Barile

School: Revere High School, Revere, MA

Nancy Petriello Barile is a teacher at Revere High School in Revere, MA, where more than half of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. While Nancy was a blogger for the Scholastic Classroom Solutions blog, she wrote about her collaboration with Jenny Kelly, founder of the World Classical Performing Arts Society, which resulted in five of her high school sophomore boys performing in Donizetti's Lucia de Lammermoor with the Teatro Lirico D'Europa in Boston. She was the winner of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award in 2013, winner of the 2011 Commonwealth Award in Massachusetts, and is a contributor to The Huffington Post and readwritethink. However, the best example of Nancy’s effect on her students’ lives was shared on her Facebook wall by a former student who wrote, “Ms. Barile, I graduated college May of this year and would like to attend law school in January. I just wanted to thank you because if it wasn’t for you, I would not have attended college and I would have given up on getting my green card. Thank you so much for everything.”

Name: Nancy Bristol

School: Green Bay Area Public Schools, Green Bay, WI

When she first began her teaching career, Nancy would ask her high school students, “What makes you want to learn?” A common theme in the responses she got was this: If YOU care, that is the most important thing.Now in her sixth year as a READ 180® teacher, Nancy makes it her mission to keep her classroom centered around “caring.” From knowing all her students’ families to celebrating student success, Nancy has made her classroom a comfortable place for learning and tackling new challenges. Outside of her classroom, Nancy works to help her students find quality healthcare, and works with community groups that assist lower-income students. She works one-on-one with dropouts to ensure they receive their GEDs and provides after-school and lunch-time help with college applications and prep for ACTs and SATs. 

Name: Jill Szymanski

School: Brandywine Springs School, Wilmington, DE

If you walked into Jill Szymanski’s fourth- and fifth-grade classroom at Brandywine Springs School in Wilmington, DE, you would see a room full of engaged students studying American history and digging through primary-source documents to answer questions of historical importance. Because of Jill’s innovative ideas in history education, she was recently named National History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. As mentioned in an interview with Scholastic Instructor® magazine, Jill says “My philosophy is to try to make [my lessons] come to life. Anything I can do to make it hands-on—role-playing, using primary-source documents and showing photographs of events.”