When she was told she was a finalist for West Hartford's Teacher of the Year, art teacher Joyce St. Germaine was surprised.
"It was very humbling" to be nominated, St. Germaine said in a May interview with Patch. "I'm in the best company. We're such a collegial group of teachers [at Bristow]. It really did make me feel great."
She officially received notice that she was chosen as West Hartford's Teacher of the Year at West Hartford Education Association Banquet on May 26. Now, the veteran teacher, who has also taught at , , Norfeldt, and elementary schools, as well as and , is one of four finalists for Connecticut Teacher of the Year honors.
"We are very proud of her and excited for the State to see what a fantastic teacher and person she is and how much of an impact she has had on our school and community," said Bristow Principal Andrew Morrow.
Patch asked St. Germaine how she felt about being recognized for her work in West Hartford's schools. Here's what she said:
Patch: How did you feel when you were chosen as West Hartford's teacher of the year?
St. Germaine: I was absolutely stunned when I was named the "2011/2012 West Hartford Teacher of the Year!" I had been told, incorrectly, that the winner would be informed in advance so as to be able to prepare an acceptance speech. I received not even a hint, so I didn't prepare a speech as I was certain that one of the other finalists had won. I shared that with the audience and also that I had once heard that if you spoke about something you loved, you would be able to deliver a great speech. So, I spoke about about "Macaroni and Cheese," and compared all the ingredients with the ingredients that allow a teacher to be the best teacher they are capable of being. I went through the list of pasta, cheese, sauce, and spices and compared them to administrators, parents, colleagues, and students. My impromptu speech was well received, but I am still humbled and awed by it all!
Patch: Did you ever think you would be recognized on a statewide level?
St. Germaine: If you understand that the thought of me winning at the district level was such a surprise to me, I'm sure you can only imagine what being a finalist at the state level feels like. I would sum it up as a mixture of excitement and disbelief, with another dose of humility thrown in.
Patch: What do you think led you to be recognized by your peers and the administration in this way?
St. Germaine: I suspect that my desire to be an integral part of the school and community's collective personality may have led to this recognition by my colleagues and administrators. My extra-curricular involvements such as Art Club, Student Council, Dance Team, and Family Art Nights may help to demonstrate my passion and commitment to teaching. I feel that I am able to extend myself in enough ways that I can connect with students and their families in ways that enhance their 9 a.m.-3 p.m. experiences. The fact that I am having such fun with it all and enjoying it more than ever before during my 37 years may also have been noticed.
Patch: What advice would you give to veteran teachers? to new teachers? to those considering becoming teachers?
St. Germaine: Any advice I might offer would be simple:
For veteran teachers: Always remember that you are a student in addition to being a teacher. Take a class or workshop outside of your field of expertise and/or comfort zone. It can be professional or recreational; it doesn't matter. Be a student. Be a learner. You will immediately understand what the children in your classes feel like and you may even discover some hidden talents or gifts!
For new teachers: There is a reason veteran teachers are still teaching ... because they love it. Observe and ask questions about everything. Veteran teachers have learned how to be effective and enjoy their work because they have created their own personal educational "tool box" over the years. Ask them to share strategies and techniques that must be learned on the job, not in college. Start your own tool box and share your "tools" with others.
For anyone wanting to go into teaching: It is thrilling to know that some where, at some time, someone ... a teacher, inspired you so much that you wish to do the same for the next generation. The value of teaching was passed on to you and you will have the opportunity to pass that on, knowing that some of your students will also become teachers because of you.
For all of the above: Be yourself! Your unique personality and life experiences will make your classroom and subject matter really come alive for your students.
The selection committee visited Bristow on Tuesday. Connecticut's 2011-2012 Teacher of the Year will be announced later in October.