Over the previous school year, Laval Families Magazine organized a Teacher Appreciation Contest in which students or parents voted for their favourite teacher. Teachers were nominated from the elementary, secondary and adult education sectors. In the 2012-2013 (2nd half) and 2013-2014 school year, 17 teachers from the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board were honoured by their students’ nomination. What follows is brief introductions to the winners of the 1st Annual LFM Teacher Appreciation Contest.

Each teacher featured below was presented with a gift certificate from Restaurant L’Academie Laval and a mani-pedi from Derm & Touche.

Elementary Teacher Winners
Jennifer Nilsson, St-Paul Elementary School
Having taught at St-Paul Elementary School for many years, Nilsson’s philosophy of education includes using humour in the classroom. Her students often exclaim that she is always laughing and smiling. “I’m also very honest with my students, and vice-versa. I want them to be honest with me as well,” says Nilsson. Nilsson, who teaches fifth grade, makes it a point to encourage reading for pleasure in her classroom, allowing students to choose their own reading material as often as possible.

For Nilsson, a mother of three, the greatest reward of teaching is seeing how students mature over the school year. At the same time, she feels rewarded when students feel comfortable enough to confide in her when they are having an issue at home or at school.

In the modern classroom, Nilsson feels that students need opportunities to learn how to solve real-world problems. “The teacher needs to act as guide or a facilitator,” says Nilsson.

Kathyrn Ippolito, Terry Fox Elementary School
“I’ve known I wanted to be a teacher since I was five years old,” says Ippolito, who was teaching first grade last year. She has been teaching at Terry Fox Elementary for the past seven years. “Education is presenting the world to students, showing them that the world can be an exciting place and to instill a love of learning,” she says. “I was really surprised and also touched when I found out I had won.”

Ippolito says that one of the challenges of teaching in a 21st century classroom is staying current as a teacher, and finding out what interests her students and what is important to them. “Each year I try to expand on my expertise with technology and share that with my class,” she says. “As a general rule, I like to challenge students to do their best, even when they think they can’t do something,” she adds. Ippolito says the most rewarding aspect of her teaching career is being able to see students grow and reach their potential. In the 2014-2015 school year, Ippolito is teaching Kindergarten at Franklin Hill Elementary.

Teresa Oppedisano, Saint-Vincent Elementary School
Oppedisano, who teaches fifth grade, bases her philosophy of education on constructivism and critical pedagogy. “I believe that students construct their knowledge through experiences and social interaction,” says Oppedisano. “I also believe that learning must be grounded in reflective inquiry and critical thinking about the world and society.”

Oppedisano feels that a 21st century classroom involves the challenge of providing students with important strategies and skills that help them to become life-long learners. “Education is no longer about facts, memorization and content; it is about learning how to learn,” says Oppedisano. She adds that teachers must strive to find a balance between teaching required curriculum and valuable life skills. One of the ways she helps students to feel validated and empowered is to allow students to develop a lesson of their choice on a topic they choose and then teach it to the class. “It is rewarding for them and for me as I tell them that I, too, am always learning from students,” says Oppedisano.

Roberta Lauke, Twin Oaks Elementary School
Lauke, who teaches third grade at Twin Oaks Elementary, began her career teaching children with autism. Once she saw how curriculum could be adapted for students with special needs, she felt the need to do this for students on a more global scale, such as in a mainstream classroom that combined students of varying academic abilities, profiles and learning styles. “I believe that every child deserves a strong education and the classroom should be a place where academics, social justice and inclusion are all considered to be equally important…As a teacher, I try to foster an environment that promotes the ideals of learning, teamwork and open communication,” said Lauke.

The parent who nominated Lauke wishes to remain anonymous, but says: “It is refreshing to see a teacher who thinks outside of the box, who is willing to challenge her students and who strives to build a sense of community amongst her students.” Lauke feels that one of the challenges of teaching in a modern-day classroom is accommodating a group of students who may have very diverse needs. She feels that teachers must always find ways to challenge their students while ensuring that those who are struggling are still part of the learning process and feel validated.

“The most rewarding aspect of teaching is to learn about my students and watch them grow on both an academic and social level,” says Lauke.

Naima Meziani, Souvenir Elementary School
As a first grade French teacher, Meziani feels that schools play a big role in forming the personalities of young students. “A teacher sets a good example for students, and must be attentive to what and how he/she teaches to students, even with their own body language and gestures,” she says. Meziani says that in order to teach, you must first and foremost love children.

Meziani, who was raised in a large family and is the oldest of three sisters and four brothers, felt responsible for her siblings’ academic success. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a teacher. “Mme Meziani is kind, she helps all the students and lets me have special privileges,” says the student who nominated Meziani.

Meziani thinks that one of the biggest challenges of teaching in a 21st century environment is convincing students that it is with patience and perseverance that we can achieve our goals, while new technology can sometimes send the opposite message. Meziani feels that teachers now need more support in the classroom due to larger class sizes and an increase in students with learning difficulties or behavioral issues. “Whether teaching in a modern or conventional classroom, the role of the teacher does not change,” says Meziani. “The teacher must set the example, be the guide, the master…”

Karine Levesque, St-Paul Elementary School
Levesque, who taught French and sciences humaines to fifth graders last year, has been teaching at Saint-Paul for 10 years. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to work with children. Levesque forms her philosophy of education with the idea that if she is passionate about what she is teaching, it will rub off on her students in a positive way.

“There a lot of challenges teaching in the modern classroom, but one of the most challenging ones is teaching a group of students with very mixed abilities. I have to be able to modify my lesson plan for struggling students without making those students feel different from anyone else,” says Levesque.

Levesque also tries to make the classroom environment more engaging, such as throwing a little paper ball around the room to designate the next speaker in a group discussion. The students all enjoy this and want to catch the ball to be the next speaker. She also tries to make teaching a little more exciting and humorous for her students when she is speaking in front of the class by way of changing her tone or voice to demonstrate an important idea.

“It is very important to me that every student in my class feels that they have succeeded,” says Levesque. “One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is the feedback I get from parents who tell me that their child is really enjoying French and has begun to speak French outside of school, such as at a restaurant.”

The student who nominated Levesque had this to say about her favourite French teacher: “Every class with Mme Karine is a blast. She goes out of her way to make sure we understand the lesson…She’s a happy person and always has a smile. This makes me feel good inside.”

Rita Farinaccio, Souvenir Elementary School
Farinaccio, who teaches grade one English and Math, discovered that she wanted to be a teacher while working as an attendant for special needs students during her college years. Farinaccio forms her philosophy of education with the idea that teachers must be mentors to their students. “I strongly believe that all children are capable of learning if they have proper motivation and direction from their teachers,” she says. “Teachers need to be patient, caring, supportive, accepting, organized and above all, have a passion for teaching.”

Farinaccio feels that one of the most difficult aspects of teaching today is the ever-increasing demands of teachers due to government cutbacks in funding. Despite the fact that technology now has a stronghold with students and in schools, she feels that the teaching of basic skills is still very important. “…learning how to print, reading a book, writing skills, adding and subtracting simple numbers, communicating with their peers and learning how to play. These simple skills have become a challenge!” she adds. Her biggest reward in teaching is seeing her students progressing and learning to read and write. The student who nominated Farinaccio had this to say about her favourite teacher: “Miss Rita helps everyone and she lets me sit in the front and helps everyone also.”

Vicki Fraser, McCaig Elementary School
Fraser, who teaches fifth grade English and Math, knew that she wanted to be a teacher from the very early age of five years old. “As I got older, I really admired my greatest teachers and knew that I wanted to be just like them,” explains Fraser. Fraser forms her philosophy of education around the idea that everything we learn has an impact on who we become in later life. “To truly teach our students the value of education, we must create an environment where making mistakes is allowed and even celebrated as opportunities for growth,” she says.

Fraser feels that one of the greatest challenges of teaching today is trying to meet the needs of a very diverse group of students who have varying needs. She mentions that nowadays teachers have limited time and support to do so, and budget cuts in education have their impact on access to technology in the classroom as well. Despite these challenges, Fraser strives to teach her students not only content and curriculum, but life skills such as compassion, empathy and perseverance. “The role of a teacher in a modern classroom is to create a passion for learning in a safe environment, to invite and encourage students to be curious, to want to try, to realize their potential…to help prepare their students for what is to come,” adds Fraser.

One of the students who nominated her says, “She’s amazing, very inspiring and motivating!”

Adrienne Cardinal, St-Vincent Elementary School
A grade two English and Math teacher, Cardinal believes that the student-teacher relationship is one of the most important elements in determining student success. “When teachers are positive, enthusiastic and connect meaningfully with their students…it is then that success will help shape their identity and their future,” says Cardinal. She says that advances in technology are a challenge, as teachers must keep up, but thinks that this is an important aspect of teaching as well. “Our students will have to be fluent in using the different technologies available, therefore we need to provide them with opportunities to practice in a safe and responsible environment,” she adds.

“…She makes learning fun and always praises us. She is the best!” says the student who nominated Cardinal for this award. Cardinal says that teachers nowadays play many roles in the classroom in addition to teaching curriculum—teachers also play a role in students’ social development by way of teaching them to be critical thinkers and responsible citizens.

Chris Tzavellas, Pierre Elliot Trudeau Elementary School
Tzavellas, who teaches cycle 3 subjects, strives to teach her students to become good, lifelong learners. “Whereas in the past we concentrated on giving the children the content necessary to move on, we now help them discover this content by using their different learning styles,” says Tzavellas, who has been teaching for 25 years.

The student who nominated her for this award says, “She teaches with fun incorporated, and we never get bored with her…it feels nice to feed your brain with extra knowledge!”

Though teaching strategies have changes over the years, Tzavellas says that her focus has always been on the students. “One thing has stayed constant throughout: when children feel safe and appreciated, they are open to you and what you have to say,” she adds.

Krystina Palladino, St-Paul Elementary School
Palladino, who teaches grade 5 English and Math, believes that all students have the capacity to learn. Having grown up in a family of teachers, Palladino has been surrounded by education her entire life. “It is up to us as teachers to adapt, be flexible and meet the needs of every child in order for them to be successful,” she says.

Palladino says that the most rewarding aspect of teaching is being witness to that “Ah-ha!” moment when a student makes a breakthrough. She notes that the role of a teacher in a modern classroom is not limited to just presenting curriculum. “At times we are nurses tending to cuts, sore tummies and other aches and pains…We are there to listen, console and counsel,” she explains. Her teaching style is one that is true to her personality. She feels that it is important to share personal triumphs or defeats with her students. “We explore what is going on in the world around us and I want them to be aware of what is happening beyond their own backyards,” says Palladino.

Ada Di Genova, Twin Oaks Elementary School
Di Genova, who teaches English and Math to first graders, began her teaching career working with autistic children. It was then that she discovered her passion for education. “I believe that each child is a unique individual who needs a secure and caring atmosphere to grow emotionally and intellectually,” she says. One of the challenges of teaching, according to Di Genova, is trying to tailor curriculum so that each child learns at his/her own pace.

“My role as a modern teacher is to take existing methods that have proven to be successful, and incorporate them with technology to further improve the skills and knowledge of my students,” she explains. “The most fulfilling aspect of teaching is seeing a student improve and develop throughout the year, especially when a student overcomes whatever struggles they may have,” she adds.

Patrizia Strazza, Genesis Elementary School
Strazza, who has been teaching at Genesis for 10 years, could not imagine herself doing anything else but teaching. She currently teaches English and Math to first graders. Strazza feels that a classroom should be a safe and welcoming place for all students, as they spend so much of their lives in school. “The teacher must act as a facilitator, helping the students learn at their own pace and become active thinkers and learners,” says Strazza. “They need to be engaged. The curriculum should relate to their lives, and the learning activities should engage their natural curiosity.”

Strazza believes that early literacy skills are the key to successful learning in all school subjects. Her classroom is filled with hundreds of books and other items to read so that her students are encouraged to read something every day. “My goal as a teacher is to inspire a love of reading,” she says.

Mena Vitelli, Twin Oaks Elementary School
Vitelli, who teaches 4th and 5th grade, believes that all students have the ability to succeed. “You need to nourish their own personal qualities so they can achieve,” Vitelli explains. Vitelli says that if she sets her expectations high for her students, she gets better results all around. One of the challenges of teaching in the 21st century, according to Vitelli, is adapting teaching methods to suit many different needs in the classroom. She sees her role as one in which she must ensure that students are learning curriculum in varied way, including the use of technology.

Vitelli says that a teacher should also be a caring role model. “Students need to know you care,” she adds.

High School Teacher Winners
Josée Royer, Phoenix Alternative High School
Royer, who teaches secondary 3,4 and 5 French, believes that the role of the teacher in a modern classroom is to educate students not only on subject matter, but on anything else that contributes to their growth as a person. “Education should make all children feel valued and appreciated. It is about meeting the student where he/she is at, and progressing from there,” says Royer.

Royer feels that one of the biggest challenges in teaching in a 21st century environment is the lack of resources due to budget cuts in the education system. Despite this challenge, she is still able to make an impact on her students. “The most rewarding aspect of teaching is when students tell you that they feel like you are the first teacher to care about them and that they are comfortable in your classroom,” she adds.

Diana Di Zazzo, Mother Teresa Junior High School
Di Zazzo, who teaches Math in both the regular and accelerated program, is known amongst her students as being a very caring and dedicated teacher. The student who nominated her for this award has this to say: “…She went the extra mile to help out her students and make their lives more fun…Frequent tutorials and being kind but tough on her students helped them all succeed.”

Di Zazzo feels that education is much more than just teaching curriculum. “…Teaching is also about helping others and creating an environment that nurtures young minds, and stimulates creativity and imagination,” she says. This is not always an easy task, explains Di Zazzo, as the increased use of technology amongst youth has created shorter attention spans and more difficulties concentrating on individual tasks. In response to this, Di Zazzo strives to keep her students engaged as much as possible.

“There seems to be a stigma when it comes to Math for most students who struggle with or have had bad experience with it in the past,” says Di Zazzo. “When a student who does have difficulty with Math finally ‘gets it’, I am witness to a special moment when he/she is filled with a sense of accomplishment and self-pride.” Di Zazzo says that this is the most rewarding aspect of a career in teaching. For Di Zazzo, the role of a teacher in a modern classroom is to be a facilitator of knowledge, but also to stay current on technological advances created for the classroom so that students remain engaged and are presented with material in new and interesting ways.

Adult Education and Vocational Training Teacher Winners
Christina Kupfer, CDC Pont-Viau
Kupfer, a registered nurse, has been teaching for the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board since 2009. She currently teaches in the Licensed Practical Nurse Program (LPN) as well as the Health Care Worker Program (PAB). Kupfer says one of the biggest challenges teaching vocational training courses is trying to keep students motivated, and finding a balance between traditional teaching methods and using technology in the classroom. Another challenge of teaching in adult education and vocational training is teaching various age groups in the same classroom. Some students in her class are just out of high school while others are adults ranging from 40-50 years old. “It is becoming very dynamic in the classroom, and I have to work with the fact that every single student in my classroom might have a different learning style or academic ability. It requires a lot of creativity in the classroom,” says Kupfer.

The adult student who nominated Kupfer agrees: “Her enthusiasm and love for her chosen career is transferred to us students. She has incredible patience with the students. If you don’t understand something, she’ll come up with a way to make sure you understand…”

Kupfer says that her biggest reward in teaching is seeing students achieve their dream. “When students are able to increase their self-confidence, believe in themselves and the fact that they can overcome certain obstacles, it’s like going from caterpillar to butterfly.” Kupfer adds that the support amongst the teachers in her department is solid, and everyone plays a huge role in student success.

Laval Families Magazine strongly believes that all teachers, principals, and educators in general play an important role in the community and our children’s lives.

Since our mission is to strengthen a sense of community in the areas of Laval, Laurentians, and Lanaudière, we strive to educate by sharing valuable and helpful information about family life, activities, education, spirituality, relationships, career, health and wellness, work, special needs, seniors, and much more.

We believe that adults working as a collaborative support system can influence, train, and empower our children. Mobilizing youth, teachers, and adults is part of the process of leadership and community transformation. Strong leadership and educational experiences enable to create positive change. When children feel empowered, they can realize their potential.

This is why Laval Families Magazine organized a Teacher Appreciation Contest, to encourage and thank our educators who are building the future of our community.