#20 National Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki




Rebecca Mieliwocki

 ELA teacher, Burbank (CA) 

2012 National Teacher of the Year 

Resource of the Week:
Talks with Teachers 4-Week  

Talks with Teachers has developed a new way to help you. Sure we’ve got this podcast that’s great to listen to. Sure there are valuable lessons on our website for all levels that can help your teaching. But the one thing that has been lacking is COMMUNITY. We have a loyal following of listeners, Tweeters, and contributing teachers that have all interacted with us. Yet, we have not allowed you to interact with each other. 

That’s where the Talks with Teachers 4-Week Challenge comes in. We want you to do something small each day to grow as a teacher. We’ve got readings, videos, fun, little projects lined up to foster your love of teaching. And best of all, there will be a community forum for you to share your success and encourage others to find purpose and joy in teaching.


 Segment I – Background and Inspiration


Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught? 

– Rebecca teaches 7th grade English at Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank, CA. She has taught middle school for 10 years. She started her teaching career as a high school English teacher, but prior to that she was in publishing, working for a company that made textbooks. She still apologizes to her students for the massive textbooks that they lug around because in the textbook industry, the bigger the book, the bigger the profits. gty_ap_barack_obama_rebecca_mieliwocki_teacher_of_the_year_ll_120424_wblog

 Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher? 

– Her growth into greatness has depended on the support group that surrounded her. Mr. Campbell was a teacher that struck fear into the hearts of students and if you taught next to him, you were in fear of making a mistake. He was exacting and proper but a wonderful person. But at the end of the year students were so thankful to be in his class because they learned so much and were pushed. She admired that. When she started middle school she learned a lot from Karen Burkland, a veteran teacher that was a Zen master. She was supportive of students. Nothing would stop her from teaching. Also, she ensured that her students didn’t use excuses to prevent them from doing the work.

It is important for other teachers to know that we all have had setbacks in the classroom. Identify an instance in which you struggled as a teacher and explain what you learned from that experience.

– Just last week she taught appositives. Her students bombed the quiz. Rebecca did what Harry Wong recommends; she went back and re-taught the material. A teacher should only move on when 70-80% of the students master the material. Not a week goes by when something is a dud, though. Rebecca believes that we are much better at 2:30 then we are at 8:30. And that is what is great about teaching; we get the chance to improve each period and each day. 

Why is literacy important?

– It is everything. Students have to understand the norms and restrictions — the rules of the road — whether they are writing, tweeting, blogging, podcasting, etc. Each form has its own rules. Students can then see the choices of an author and how that influences meaning. 

What is one thing that you love about the classroom? 

 – Rebecca loves that it is unpredictable, safe, fun, and uncertainty. A student in the other middle school recently passed away of cancer. It has been a week of deep tragedy. She didn’t turn to literature, she made her classroom a safe place. 


Segment II — Digging into the Teacher Bag of Goodies
She had mentioned Harry Wong earlier in the interview and his book The First Days Of School: How To Be An Effective Teacher
. It illuminates the difference between rules and procedures, when to re-teach, and mastery teaching. She is a big fan of Ann Lamont and her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She loved I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories by Sam Swope which is about his year of teaching writing to 2nd graders. This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women is also a good book that dives into humanity. 


What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom?

— Rebecca has learned to police the perimeter. When your a teacher, the job is like a stalker. We have to keep work as much as possible at work so that we can be really interesting, amazing people outside of school. Ultimately this will help us in class because we can be interesting to our students.

 Is there an internet resource that you can recommend which will help teachers grow professionally?

NCTE and Read.Write.Think have great resources. The publishers of the novels we teach often have guides for teachers so we should look into that. She also uses Pintrest to find really good images because she is a visual learner. She also uses video resources on soulpancake. Not matter the resource you do have to send it through your own filter and determine if it is worth for while. 

Provide a writing practice that is effective?

 – We need to create more easily causable pieces of writing for the teacher to look at. Short assignments provide the means to focus on specific aspects of writing.  She also believes in the equation that states voice = vocabulary choice + sentence structure. 

Update the cannon. What book, written in the last 10-15 years, belongs in the classroom?

— Rebecca and her students are nuts for The Hunger Games, which can lead in to some dystopia literature that they will read in high school. She would like to see Gary Soto novels to serve the Hispanic and Latino populations.