In Appreciation of Teachers

In my 14 years of classroom teaching, I feel like I took Teacher Appreciation Week for granted.  I didn’t really feel the need to be appreciated. I loved what I did and I felt the love from 150 high school kids and their families every day, what more was needed?

As a parent of two kids (one graduated, one in high school), I have a lot more perspective of appreciation.  What amazing people teachers are to care for my children and their quirks while they are students and even for years after matriculation.  I appreciate the teachers who have never stopped believing in my kids, even when they were driving me nuts, and the ones who emailed me to ask me if everything was ok because they were just not acting normal, and the ones who told me things would be okay: the world would not end if a B was earned.

Now as a district administrator, who for the first time in my adult life does not work inside a school, I have even more appreciation of teachers.  Teachers work every day through all the noise to ensure all kids are successful. At the end of the day, they are focused on making sure kids are being served.  

In my position, I have the honor of organizing our district’s teacher of the year program.  This is our second year. We honor a teacher at each of our schools who then answers a series of questions to prepare for our selection of district teacher of the year.  In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I will share some of their thoughts. Reading what these teachers had to say about the power of teachers was a highlight of my year.

Lori Felish has taught for 30 years and is retiring this year.  In the wonderful world of rural schools, she taught both my kids.  My daughter loves Ms. Felish, who was her 2nd-grade teacher. I also taught Lori’s children.  Lori shares her philosophy of how she treats kids, “Every day, and in every situation, I always ask myself…Is this how I would want my own child(or grandchild now), to be treated?… That is how I have treated each and every child over the years of teaching.”  

Jennifer Black has taught middle school math for the past two years.  She had taught at the elementary level for years and was ready for a new challenge.  With middle school, Jen has found her home. Mrs. Black states, “ When I tell people that I teach middle school, many cringe and offer condolences, others shake their head and tell me I’m crazy, many more tell me they could never do that.  When I remind them that middle school children are just young adults that want someone to believe in them, make them laugh, hold them accountable, and make their time in school relevant, they usually agree and see why it might not be so bad after all.  The most important thing an outstanding teacher has is a connection with their students. My connections can happen in many ways and are different for each student. It always amazes me how interested my students are in my own personal life. I share my successes and struggles with them to show them that I am also human.

I believe everything we do should be both intentional and purposeful. This is not a profession where “winging it” is an option.  Ultimately it always comes back to doing what is best for kids. Loving your content and being a master in your classroom is helpful in being considered an outstanding teacher. When students don’t feel a teacher knows what they are talking about, or cares about what they are teaching, they have lost them for good. Respect, even from students is earned.”  Just to add a bit a rural school fun, Jen’s son and my son grew up together and were both in Ms. Felish’s class the same year. It is truly one of the best parts of living in a small community!

Trisha Konen went the other way.  She taught for many years at the middle school level and moved to an elementary school.  For Trisha, she talks about making new relationships at a new school and the balance of taking on new leadership opportunities without coming on too strong.  She talks about the power of collaboration, “As a learner and a collaborator, they go hand in hand. I love collaborating with my peers and administrators, as it is through the ability to collaborate we become stronger teachers.  Learning from one another is so powerful. A teacher should never be on his/her own island, rather, we all should be willing to beg, borrow, and steal from each other.”

Carol Nowakowski is a Lake Havasu High School alum turned teacher.  Her parents were educators. She knows everyone in town and knows the history of our district better than anyone.  She is the president of the Lake Havasu City Education Association and works with teachers, board members, and legislative leaders.  She is a trusted voice in the education community. Everything about Carol is education. She is the person who is willing to dish about schools with me any time of the day.  She shares her love for school by stating, “When asked to define my personal feelings about teaching my heart literally feels like exploding. It is my joy, it is my heartache, it is my daily challenge, it is my happy place, and it is my life. The joy begins every morning when I watch a struggling student being dropped off in front of the school, and run from his parents’ vehicle across the school grounds to begin his day. His joy is my joy.”

Carmen Domek taught in Wisconsin for years before retiring to Lake Havasu City.  In a moment of fate, she walked into Lake Havasu High School one sweltering hot summer day as we were in need of a choir teacher.  And she has changed our choir program in so many positive ways. Carmen traces her teaching back to her teachers, “Her name was Helen Frank.  She was my elementary school music teacher. Mrs. Frank treated every child in my class with respect and kindness. She made each of us feel special by taking the time to get to know us.  She had such passion and enthusiasm for teaching. Her very excitement about our learning motivated us to do our best. From my very first day in her classroom at Briggs Elementary School, I wanted to grow up to be a teacher like her.”

Finally, Roseann Hagen has taught in our school district for over twenty years.  She is an expert teacher in every sense of the word. She is known throughout the district for her ability to engage every student in her class in learning and makes the most of every single moment with her kids.  Roseann talks about the importance of connecting the community to her classroom, “There are members of our community that have such a positive impact on our students. As a leader and collaborator, I would be amiss to not invite them to share their knowledge and inspiration with our students.  Barbara Meyer, a Lions Club member, teaches our first-grade students about the history of the American flag.  We coordinate this event with Veterans’ Day. The students are beyond excited to proudly wave their flags as they meet their parents at the end of the school day.  Gina Gutierrez, the Public Education Specialist with Lake Havasu City Fire Department, teaches our students fire and water safety. The students enjoy sharing their newly gained knowledge with the captain and firefighters when they arrive on the final day of lessons.  There have been many exciting readers invited to my classroom to inspire our young readers. The Mayor, Chief of Police, Mohave County Librarian, Pet Partners, and many parents have all been welcomed into our classroom.”

So often, we search far and wide for excellence in education.  But exceptional educators are here – right in our very own schools.  In order for us to have an education system that is truly excellent, we should be able to walk into any classroom and witness an accomplished teacher of this caliber leading it.  During this Teacher Appreciation Week, I salute these teachers, and I commit to supporting teachers who are learning to be the best they can be using the tools they need to get there.  

When we announce our District Teacher of the Year in a few weeks, no matter who the winner is, they all truly represent the best in education.  


Jaime Festa-Daigle

My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as the Director of Personnel and Technology at Lake Havasu Unified School District. I’ve taught everything from ELL to 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. My current passion is the development of mentor and induction programs for novice school leaders in rural communities.

I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu Unified School District the best district in AZ, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my children and pugs, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

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