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Nov 21, 2012

Thank You.

I crossed my fingers that it was you.” “You're the best teacher ever.
— Students at Alayna’s notification
Echoed, no doubt in at least three other states this week.

What’s the most common, most basic thing that all new Milken Educators say when accepting their award?  Two words, often repeated multiple times: “thank you.”  Simple words that, as Dr. Jane Foley points out in the beginning of every presentation, are just not said often enough to educators. 

So this Thanksgiving week—as short as it is—we didn’t slow down for one second in giving thanks to teachers and giving them a little more to be thankful for this year.  We don’t mean the $25,000 check that they received, or even the honor and elevation that comes with becoming a Milken Educator.  We mean the demonstration of gratitude and appreciation—of knowing that they are not sole knights tilting at a windmill that will ever be a dragon, but that they are fighting the most necessary battle and that others recognize them for it, stand by their side and believe in them.  This is the message of gratitude that we seeded in four schools this week, reinforced in four amazing educators and work to make blossom throughout the education professional fields year round.  With that Thanksgiving/harvest metaphor exhausted, let’s meet our four newest impromptu thank-you speechmakers.

It was an “OH, OK” Monday morning that took us to Ohio and Oklahoma, where we honored two teachers that were anything but blasé and much more than just OK.  At Spaulding Elementary School in Goshen, Ohio, Chief Learning Officer and Executive Vice President of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching Jason Culbertson helped us spotlight Crystal Mink Dozier for the culture of success that she believes in and instills in her students, encouraging them to challenge themselves.  Leading by example, Crystal is challenging herself by taking additional classes at the University of Cincinnati where she’s a model student—literally: Crystal’s professor uses video of her teaching as an example.

Milken Family Foundation Trustee Tom Boysen was on hand in Stillwater, Oklahoma, to honor gifted education specialist Tammera Mittelstet, who is a bit of an overachiever herself.  For one thing, she teaches at two schools every week: Highland Park Elementary and Will Rogers Elementary.  Not satisfied with teaching gifted students at two schools, and believing that all students deserve a chance to rise to a challenge, Tammera also teaches gifted class activities to regular classes one day a week.  Although she was clearly surprised to hear her name as the Milken Educator Award winner, as you can see in the video, Tammera still stopped and hugged each student (and adult) she came across on her way to accept.

On Tuesday, Tom Boysen continued his notifications emcee roadshow with a stop in Olathe, Kansas.  There, we recognized third-grade teacher Michael Berndt, of Prairie Center Elementary School.  A master of multi-media, Michael uses technology, music and literature to entice and engage his students; and multiple modalities of learning, including making kinesthetic movement to make pathways of learning.  Michael needed some kinesthetic assistance of his own when he was announced as our honoree; watch for yourself how he was so overcome that Tom actually came into the crowd to congratulate him and coax him to the front of the room to accept the award.

Meanwhile, in Rapid City, South Dakota, Dr. Jane Foley returned to her role as Awards presenter extraordinaire.  Jane was joined at South Park Elementary School by Mayor Sam Kooiker and Governor Dennis Daugaard, but the showing of heavy hitters didn’t outshine the teacher of the hour: fourth-grade teacher Alayna Siemonsma.  Being announced by the governor in front of the assembly and media surely heightened the emotion as Alayna made her way to the front, high-fiving students and hugging colleagues along the way.  Speaking after the presentation, Governor Daugaard told us that “it’s an honor to present this award. Alayna is a driving force behind professional development and student achievement in her school district. She strives to help everyone around her achieve success and be the best that they can be.”

And now, a few words from you, our readers. 

As promised, this week we want to thank you by sharing some of the thoughts you shared with us over the last few weeks.

In response to the question “why do you do it,” Marta Goodson (GA ’03) sent us a lovely and insightful letter, which read, in part:

Marta GoodsonPersonally, I do it because deep in my heart I know that we can make a difference at least one student at a time.  I do it because, for some of my students, I might be the only person who encourages and inspires them to believe that they have potential.  […]  All that we do cannot possibly be described in a small letter.  Besides teaching, educators advise, encourage, listen and also learn from their students.  And then, some educators follow destiny, which for others is God’s leading, so that in the future we might encounter some of our own former students who have taken up the torch in education to continue the process of empowering others through education.  This thought exemplifies my own experience.

Answering the question “how do you engage,” Margo Sorenson (CA ’91) offers this advice:

Now that I'm retired from teaching and doing author school visits and weekly volunteering at our local Boys and Girls Club, I try to use the same methods I used in the classroom: trying to communicate a feeling of mutual respect, using whimsical humor, and being consistent in all, from discipline to encouragement to empathy, just as my fellow Milken Educators do.

In the spirit of gratitude, Jeanne Stiglbauer (SC ’01) shared her experience since becoming a Milken Educator:

I still remember the very exciting day so filled with emotions over ten years ago. I have not always expressed my gratitude to the fullest as the last the ten-plus years have been composed of days so filled with work and family, including the loss of my beloved dad to prostate cancer and the political changes that have rocked South Carolina. Moving to a high school principalship was difficult but has filled my heart with such great joy that I know that this was the plan for me. I will always be grateful for your kindness, generosity and affirmation.

Others offered quick, but much appreciated “thanks” of their own:

  • Sandra Gilletti Hay (CO ’90) writes: “Thanks for the updated news and the sharing of ideas!  I do appreciate this!”
  • Alma Villegas of The HeArt Project adds: “Thanks for the newsletter.  I enjoy reading the quotes section.”  (And now you’re a part of it, Alma!)

That’s it for this short week.  Thank you, educators.  We at the Milken Family Foundation wish each of you and your families a truly bountiful Thanksgiving holiday full of things to be thankful for.


Boris Kievsky
Notifications Newsletter Editor
Manager, Online Communications and Engagement

P.S.  A personal thank you from me, your humble newsletter editor, to all of the tireless incurable educators, both in my own life (my fourth and fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Krupitsky, among many) and around this great nation.

Keep those comments, quotes and questions coming!   Share them with me by hitting “reply” or emailing, and I’ll share as many as I can with our community.

In this newsletter:  Michael Berndt (KS '12)Crystal Mink Dozier (OH '12)Dr. Tammera Mittelstet (OK '12)Alayna Siemonsma (SD '12)
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