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Teacher Of The Year Essay On The Teaching Profession

Jane Schmidt, an eighth-grade literacy and language arts teacher at Maquoketa Middle School, has been named the 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year. Schmidt, a 33-year teaching veteran, serves as a teacher mentor at her school and, in a new role this fall, she coaches educators, refines curriculum and gauges the effects of teaching practices across the school district. She has two master’s degrees and earned National Board Certification in 2004.

Schmidt lives in rural Delmar with her husband, Brian, and two black Labrador Retrievers, Ozzie and Annie. She has three grown children: Kate, Ben, and Sam. Her hobbies include reading, writing, baking and riding a four-wheeler around the farm.

1. You spent years in special education, and have segued to literacy. Why the change?

Through my work with special needs students, I discovered a passion for both reading and writing, which led me to pursue my endorsements in both reading and language arts as well as National Board Certification in the area of Early Adolescence English Language Arts. I wanted to expand the number of students I was working with in order to share my enthusiasm for literacy. Many special needs students are integrated in the general education classroom, and with my background in special education, it helps me to assist them to be successful through differentiation of instruction. In May, I completed my second Master’s in Education from Western Illinois University in the area of Educational Leadership in order to take on other leadership opportunities and share my passion for teaching with other educators. As a teacher, I can be a part of making changes in my classroom and in my building, but in order to assist with district-wide changes I felt I needed to attain my master’s degree in Educational Leadership. I felt strongly that I wanted to assist with school improvement in our district.

2. What is your No. 1 highlight in teaching?

Maintaining enthusiasm throughout my career while always striving for continuous improvement. These two qualities have kept me in the teaching profession over these many years. It is exciting to watch students become fluent readers and reflective writers. I love to integrate technology to inspire students along the road of learning. It is gratifying to see students achieve success and find their passion and purpose in a career.

3. Have there been any hard times in teaching?

Being a teacher is difficult as we strive to implement Iowa Core, integrate effective classroom strategies, strive for high student achievement, assist students in organizing their learning, and complete paperwork in a timely fashion. The school year “road” changes year to year based upon the students we have and the make-up of a class. This diversity of students is what also has kept me enthusiastic about teaching because it is a career which is both challenging and filled with great joy, ever changing and ever inspiring me to work on my skills to make instruction relevant to the 21st Century learner. There is a significant change in the way students learn today. Technology and social media are a great part of their lives and will continue to be. I am fortunate to be in a school that has a 1-to-1 initiative along with programs such as Infinite Campus and Study Wiz. Campus allows both students and parents to keep informed of student progress, tardiness, and attendance. Study Wiz allows students to be informed of what is going on in classes, with links to resources, and clear explanations of assignments. Needless to say, keeping up on technology is sometimes difficult, but I know it is necessary in order to keep education relevant to students of today. It is important that we instruct students on appropriate use of technology as well as how to use it to access information and in the creation of projects.

Personally, the hardest event I have faced in teaching was the suicide of a sixth grade student and several years later the suicide of a seventh grade student. Both left me wondering, “What could I have done to change this? What signs did I miss? Why did this happen?” It makes one reflective about the “hidden” issues of mental illness that many face and makes me very aware of appreciating each moment along with being compassionate about bigger issues adolescent students face. We do not know what life outside of our building is like for those who enter our classrooms, but we can make our classrooms a place where they feel welcome, respected, and valued, always with a sense that we are opening doors for students to see the bigger life picture as they begin making decisions about the person they aspire to be.

4. What are your thoughts about the Iowa Core? Why is it so important to Iowa?

Iowa Core takes learning to a deeper level for both teachers and students. It has changed what I do as a teacher and has led me to focus on learning instead of content. Implementation of Iowa Core has provided opportunities for strong collaboration between teachers as we implement instruction incorporating the standards. I speak from experience when I say implementation of Core has challenged our literacy teams to re-evaluate our curriculum and seek complex texts for students to analyze and unpack as they learn to read and write critically. To successfully implement Iowa Core, it requires unpacking standards so that we instruct them with fidelity and has encouraged us to focus on instruction that is both rigorous and relevant to the 21st Century. The end result for Iowa is to enhance student achievement across our state and better prepare our students to compete in a global society.

5. You incorporate data into your teaching. Why? How do you know if you are collecting the right data?

In today’s classroom, using informative, effective, and authentic assessments are necessary to guide instruction. Formative assessment is an integral part of all instruction especially as we measure progress toward proficiency with standards. It informs both student and teacher of the learning continuum. If we do not assess, we cannot truly know if a student is learning the desired outcomes. Assessments come in different forms including informal and formal assessments, norm-based and criterion-referenced testing, along with performance tasks. All are varied ways of assessing the direction of learning. Assessment data should be at the heart of our instruction and assist us in making choices related to effective teaching strategies.

6. If you could share just one thought with fellow teachers, what would it be?

In the field of education, continuous improvement is what we should seek. Change is difficult for many including for our students; however, we need to strive for continuous improvement in order to provide a rigorous and relevant learning environment. Seeking continuous improvement breathes fire into what we do in our classrooms and also helps to ignite a fire into the learning lives of our students. We must collaborate and learn from each other as we move forward in our classrooms. Collaboration is a key component of continuous improvement.

7. For new teachers coming into the profession, what advice would you offer them?

My advice for new teachers is to look at the positive, change the negative, and maintain enthusiasm with a focus on creating a student-centered classroom. Never stop striving for continuous improvement, serving as an example for students as a life-long learner. Each year we should ask ourselves a series of questions to drive our instruction:

  • “How can I make my classroom one that invites students in to learn?” 
  • “What do I want students to say about this class when they leave?”
  • “What type of learning experience do I want to create for them? What type of learner do I want to enable them to be?”

8. As 2014 Teacher of the Year, what are you looking forward to?

As Teacher of the Year, I look forward to serving as an ambassador for teachers. There are many teachers throughout our state doing amazing things for students and I am honored to represent them. I look forward to visiting with teachers and viewing classrooms. I hope to highlight the positive results coming from classrooms throughout our state, thereby inspiring others towards continuous improvement. I hope to learn new and innovative ideas to bring to a leadership role in eastern Iowa.

Educator Recognition Programs

Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Program

Each year the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year (TOY) program honors a Massachusetts teacher who exemplifies excellent teaching in the Commonwealth. Beyond celebrating the individual, the program looks at the complex work that is involved in educating all students through highlighting student achievement, commitment to the profession, innovations in education, and teacher leadership. It draws attention to issues of teacher quality and reiterates the importance of the teacher as the single most important school-based factor in improving student outcomes.

The nomination window for the 2019 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year cycle is now closed. We will reopen nominations in August for the 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year!

For more information on the MA Teacher of the Year program, please click on the following links.

Program Overview

The Massachusetts Teacher of the Year (TOY) Program began in 1960. Each year the program celebrates Massachusetts teachers who exemplify excellent teaching in the Commonwealth by selecting a teacher who is worthy of representing the positive contributions of teachers statewide.

"Being named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year was meaningful to me not only because it recognized my passion for teaching and learning but also because it was a celebration of public education. During my year of service, I spoke to colleagues across the state and had the opportunity to meet and learn with fellow educators from all parts of the United States. I say that the TOY designation is the "gift that keeps on giving" because new doors continue to open for me in ways I would never have imagined, even now - two years after the end of my official term. I have become increasingly involved in professional organizations, I have been called upon for consulting, I have reviewed textbooks and other educational writing, and I traveled to China as part of an NEA Global Competence program." Kathleen Turner, 2013 MA Teacher of the Year

The Teacher of the Year must also demonstrate:

  • A proven track record of meeting students' needs in order to further student growth and achievement.

  • Instructional leadership in his/her classroom in addition to being a respected member of and contributor to the larger school and district community.

  • Respect for and nuanced understanding of the different perspectives that contribute to high quality education--including those of colleagues, administration, parents, students, and policymakers.

Opportunities for the Teacher of the Year:

  • The Teacher of the Year (TOY) will have the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for the teaching profession, which will include public speaking and writing opportunities. This is a chance for the TOY to share ideas and to learn from others; it is not the expectation that the TOY speaks on behalf of all teachers. Rather, the TOY should reflect an understanding for the various perspectives that exists among teachers. The TOY maintains full time teaching responsibilities.
  • Contingent upon the National program and funding, along with the other states' teachers of the year, the MA TOY attends a 5-day National Teacher of the Year Conference, travels to Washington, DC for a week to participate in numerous recognition activities and meets the President, spends a week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and after the TOYs official year ends, attends a "Next Steps" Conference in Princeton, NJ.
  • The Massachusetts TOY becomes the state's candidate for the National Teacher of the Year Program. The National Teacher of the Year spends a year out of the classroom traveling across, and out of, the country.

"I always wanted to 'sit at the table' and influence education policy. In addition to being a member of the Governor's Teacher Advisory Group, I was one of three teacher members on the task force of twenty to offer advice on the development of the new Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation system. This was the most intensive, challenging and yet rewarding experience of the year." Dr. Wilma Ortiz, 2011 MA Teacher of the Year

2018 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

Cara Pekarcik

High School Science Teacher

North Quincy High School

Quincy Public Schools

If you would like to contact Cara or request a visit to North Quincy High School, please contact her atmspekarcik@gmail.com.

Cara Pekarcik is a science teacher who believes education is not just what happens inside the four walls of a classroom. Cara enhances student participation by showing students how concepts apply to their lives. She employs the use of science and engineering practices as well as hands-on learning opportunities to improve literacy and sharpen critical thinking skills. She believes that educators have a responsibility to help students gather information, make informed decisions, formulate new ideas and ultimately gain confidence in their abilities. Cara also encourages educators to look beyond the walls of their classrooms to create curriculum that utilizes the interests, knowledge and resources of students, parents and the broader community.

Cara graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Psychobiology from Southampton College of Long Island University in 2001. Upon graduation, Cara began working at a Massachusetts non-profit research organization where she studied demographics and behaviors of large whales. Cara served as educator/naturalist onboard thousands of whale watches as well as a mentor/coordinator for the organization's college internship program. Her enthusiasm for education grew over time, and steered her towards a career as a high school science teacher.

In 2006, Cara began teaching at North Quincy High School (NQHS) in Quincy, MA. She received her Master's in Secondary Education (Biology) from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2011. She brings her field experience and love of science to classes including, biology, physical science, marine science, and zoology. Cara encourages students to experience all aspects of science, ranging from inquiry science fair projects, to an annual whale watch trip and visits from local experts in related careers.

Cara believes that educators make excellent role models for life-long learning. She has participated in local professional development opportunities with the museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS), and MassBioEd as well as national opportunities with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. In September 2016, Cara embarked on the professional and personal trip of a lifetime as a PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating) educator. Cara traveled to Antarctica to work with chemists and molecular biologists from various universities and research institutions. Her role was to learn about the science and make the science accessible to her students and the public. The expedition provided Cara an opportunity to expand her understanding of various science concepts and ultimately develop lessons that incorporate this new knowledge with skills that promote student success in the classroom and throughout life. Through these experiences, Cara works to better herself as a person, a learner and an educator who can empower students never to stop learning and never to give up on their dreams.

Cara is an active member of the North Quincy High School community. She serves as a volleyball coach and as the school adviser for the National Honor Society Chapter at North Quincy High School. She also supports athletic, academic, theatric and other events held throughout the year. Cara has mentored pre-service teachers from Emmanuel College and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

As Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, Cara looks forward to sharing her experiences with other educators across the Commonwealth. She hopes to celebrate their successes and encourage educators to seek out opportunities to enhance their understanding of their subject as well as enrich their lives. Cara also hopes to encourage advances in the education and training of pre-service teachers and to continue to serve as a role model for her students.

Cara lives in Weymouth and in her time away from school, she loves to read, kayak, travel (especially to National Parks), and spend time with family, friends and her rescue dog, Sadie.

Nominate a Teacher for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

"Serving as the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year was not only a great honor, but it also allowed me to find my voice as a teacher leader and advocate on behalf of students, my colleagues, and our profession. In particular, the speaking, writing, and policy skills I developed during my tenure served me very well as I later transitioned to working on education policy in Washington, DC." David Lussier, 2000 MA Teacher of the Year

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education accepts nominations year round for the Teacher of the Year program. The cut-off date for this selection cycle is February 3. Nominations submitted after February 3 will be held until the following year when the teacher will be informed of the nomination.

We recognize that there are amazing public school teachers in all corners of the state. We encourage you to recognize their contributions by nominating them. Anyone (parents, teachers, students, administrators, community members, etc) may nominate a teacher or co-teachers (2 teachers in the same classroom, at the same time, responsible for the same students). Teachers may even apply without being nominated. Once nominated, nominees will receive an invitation to apply and the application materials.

Submit a nomination.

You may also submit a nomination by email, fax, or hard copy.

Please include the following:

  1. Your name, email, and how you know the teacher you are nominating;
  2. The teacher's full name and email;
  3. The teacher's grade level, subject area, school, and district,; and
  4. A statement explaining why you feel the teacher deserves recognition.

Email the nomination to the Educator Recognition mailbox at educatorrecognition@doe.mass.edu with the subject, Teacher of the Year Nomination.

Fax the nomination to 1-781-338-3395

Mail the nomination to:
Teacher of the Year Program
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
ATTN: Amy Gerade
75 Pleasant Street
Malden, MA 02148

Application Process and Timeline

"There are many adjectives that I could use to describe my experience as Massachusetts Teacher of the Year but the most fitting would be inspirational. I was inspired by the teachers I met and the passion they have for educating children across the state of Massachusetts and around the country. My journey took me to small towns, college campuses, and the White House. At each stop I learned more about the teaching profession and about myself. In the classroom and as a teacher leader, I will forever draw on the experiences of this past year with the hope of inspiring others to make a difference in the world. It was an incredible honor to be the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year." Jeff Shea, 2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

Application Process

Round 1 — Preliminary Application (due Thursday, February 15, 2018)

  • Candidate information, four essays, principal's letter of support, photograph
  • Semi-finalists will be selected and notified by March 7, 2018.

Round 2 — Semi-Finalist Application (due Friday, March 16, 2018)

  • Written task and submission of contact information for two references
  • Phone conversation with the Teacher of the Year coordinator
  • Selected applicants will be notified by March 28, 2018.

Round 3 — Classroom Observations (April 3- April 11, 2018)

  • A team from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) will conduct classroom observations for selected applicants.
  • Selected applicants will be invited to interview at ESE in Malden, and will be notified by April 13, 2018.

Round 4 — Finalist Interviews (April 24-27, 2018)

  • Interviews with an independent selection committee will be held at the Department in Malden on Wednesday, April 24, 2018. For a candidate to be considered a finalist, s/he must go through the interview process.
  • An optional pre-interview meeting will be held at ESE in Malden on Monday, April 23, 2018, from 2:30pm-3:30pm.
  • The recommended candidate will have interviews with the Senior Associate Commissioner of the Center for Instructional Support and the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.


In order to be eligible, teachers/co-teachers must:

  • Have completed at least four years of teaching experience;
  • Spend the majority of the school day in direct instruction of students;
  • Possess an active and valid Massachusetts teaching license for the subject and grade level taught;
  • Teach in a public school or Department approved adult learning center; and
  • Be a full-time teacher.

Note: Co-teachers must teach in the same classroom at the same time and be responsible for the same students. Each teacher needs to submit an individual candidate information form, resumé, and photograph, but may collaborate and submit one copy for each of the essays.


The preliminary application includes the following:

  • Candidate Information
  • Teacher's resumé;
  • Responses to 4 essay questions;
  • Principal form and letter of support; and
  • Photograph (Recent color head and shoulder shot suitable for publicity purposes)

2018-2019 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year preliminary application overview, including application instructions, essay questions and principal's form

Apply to the 2018-2019 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year program

If you have questions about the Teacher of the Year Program, please email the Educator Recognition mailbox at educatorrecognition@doe.mass.edu.

Former Massachusetts Teachers of the Year

Last Updated: February 21, 2018

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